The DisHuman Child

iHuman’s co-director, Dan Goodley, along with colleagues Katherine Runswick-Cole (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Kirsty Liddiard (University of Sheffield), has recently published an article entitled The DisHuman Child in the academic journal, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. The article explores the dialogues happening within the iHuman, drawing upon the lives of disabled children and young people. The article is Open Access, which means it is free to read. Click on the this link to get a copy.

Abstract: In this paper, we consider the relationship between the human and disability; with specific focus on the lives of disabled children and young people. We begin with an analysis of the close relationship between ‘the disabled’ and ‘the freak’. We demonstrate that the historical markings of disability as object of curiosity and register of fear serve to render disabled children as non-human and monstrous. We then consider how the human has been constituted, particularly in the periods of modernity and the rise of capitalism, reliant upon the naming of disability as antithetical to all that counts as human. In order to find a place for disabled children in a social and cultural context that has historically denied their humanity and cast them as monstrous others, we develop the theoretical notion of the DisHuman: a bifurcated complex that allows us recognise their humanity whilst also celebrating the ways in which disabled children reframe what it means to be human. We suggest that the lives of disabled children and young people demand us to think in ways that affirm the inherent humanness in their lives but also allow us to consider their disruptive potential: this is our DisHuman child. We draw on our research projects to explore three sites where the DisHuman child emerges in moments where sameness and difference, monstrosity/disability and humanity are invoked simultaneously. We explore three locations – (i) DisDevelopment; (ii) DisFamily and (iii) DisSexuality – illuminating the ways in which the DisHuman child seeks nuanced, politicized and complicating forms of humanity.

Considering Intimate Lives: Ways Forward

We seldom consider the relationships between our access to and experiences of human intimacy and our political, economic and cultural citizenship as thinking, moving, acting subjects. Culturally speaking, intimacy is a closeness that happens in private; it is produced in the spaces of our lives that we consider warm, safe, and protective: our loving and sexual interactions, our friendships, our relationships with biological and chosen family, and within our networks and close communities. Intimacy is about proximity, affection, compassion, and sometimes, bodies, passion and desire. How connected we are to our social world, to chosen others, and within our local, national and global communities underpins what it means to be both valued and human. Our access to the category of the human (not a given, for many disenfranchised people) dictates how we imagine, live and experience intimacy and intimate citizenship in the 21st century, as well as the cultural makings of our public, private and intimate lives and selves. Thus, it’s important to consider the impacts of new iterations of neoliberalism, capitalism and austerity on human intimacy, connection, and belonging; and the extent to which these lived, emotional and affective experiences continue to define our humanness and serve as a marker of humanity in advanced capitalism.

Wordle diagram

‘Intimate citizenship’ is a term coined by the British Sociologist Ken Plummer (2003). It refers to the evolving relationships between the private and personal with public aspects of our lives. More simply, matters of sexuality, childbearing and rearing, loving partnerships, intimate labour and work, gender identity, friendships, care and caring relationships, spirituality and other ‘personal’ concerns are increasingly contoured by, and penetrate, public life. Intimate citizenship necessarily involves negotiating body-based, psycho-emotional and social contact with others. As such, intimate problems, commonly understood as private, have significant public and policy implications. Intimate citizenship brings into relief how our apparently private and personal choices – who we love, our work to maintain loving and intimate relationships, and our consumption and capacities that shape and sustain this work – inevitably involve and affect others. Inevitably, changing political and socio-economic relations of public life significantly shape such relations, making austerity a key determinant in the extent to which socially disenfranchised and vulnerable groups have access to and can make claims for intimate citizenship.

Intimate citizenship is fragile for many, particularly disabled people. Indeed, it routinely contested, controlled and contained in the lives of disabled people, particularly those who have the label of learning disability and/or autism. This is despite the fact that the rights of disabled people to pursue several spheres of intimate life associated with love, labour and care, including sexual identity and expression, friendship, marriage and cohabitation, family life and parenthood, are enshrined in the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). These rights are important because intimate relationships establish the social networks necessary to support employment, educational success, secure housing, family stability, sexual health and wellbeing, and build resilience to deal with multiple forms of oppression, discrimination and disempowerment. Barriers to intimate ties lead to social and economic costs associated with vulnerability to abuse and violence, child protection involvement, new forms of institutionalisation and over-reliance on private and social care resources. In practice, we know little of disabled people’s experiences of intimate citizenship; little detailed exploration of people’s intimate experiences has been undertaken. Even less is known about the spaces disabled people may easily access and stake claims to their intimate citizenship, especially in austere times, and how this may shape intimate subjectivities, relations and practice. Nor do we know what new ableisms – the exclusions, disadvantages and silencing of people with impairments – or other barriers are encountered within the exercise of intimate rights and/or in the contexts of austerity. Importantly, our knowledge rarely includes disabled people as competent commentators on their own life conditions. Clearly it’s time for this to change, to ask, in conjunction with disabled people: which way forward?

Considering Intimate Lives: Ways Forward is a workshop for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, self-advocates, their families, friends, allies and those who work with and for them (e.g. care staff, support workers, social workers, and associated professionals). Members of the public, students, and activists who share an interest in the workshop themes are also welcome. The workshop is taking place at St Mary’s Church on Monday 9th November 2015 as part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science 2015. Click here to book your free ticket.

 By Dr Kirsty Liddiard, School of Education, University of Sheffield (Twitter: @kirstyliddiard1). This blog post was originally published on Medium, please click here to view.


Plummer, K. (2003) Intimate Citizenship: Private Decision and Public Dialogues. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press


Rebooting humanity through disability

This blog article draws upon some recent research and writing with my colleagues Rebecca Lawthom and Katherine Runswick Cole (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Kirsty Liddiard (University of Sheffield, like myself) (1). Our work centres around a key question; what does it mean to be human in the 21st Century and in what ways does disability enhance these meanings? (Please see our website, In posing this question we are drawn to two realisations. First, we recognise that the human being is what we might term an entangled expansive entity (bound up in tight connections of nature, technology, culture). When we think of our friends we now might point to our social media networks and when we consider the human body we are certain to note that we are plugged in to a whole host of relationships with the internet, computers and machines. While it is important to recognise the ever-morphing practices that impinge upon humanity we wonder if disability might shed further light on these entangled and expansive shifts and changes. Historically disabled people have been considered to be less than human by their fellow (non-disabled) humans. Just as people of colour and queer people have been marginalised, so disabled people have been institutionalised, segregated and on many occasions threatened with eugenics and medical interventions that seek to wipe them out. Fortunately, the disabled people’s movement that now enjoys global presence – reaching out across rich and poor nations – demands us not only to include disabled people as members of the human race but, and this is what we find particularly exciting, asks us to think again about what it means to be a full, paid up member of humanity.

The second realisation is that we are living in a time when the human being is under threat. We know that the gap between the rich and the poor is wider now than it has ever been. In June 2014, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of people displaced by bloody conflict and persecution had exceeded 50 million for the first time since the post-World War II era. Meanwhile, as more and more governments execute austerity politics, many human beings find themselves at risk. Yet, the dominant message from politicians is that in order to survive humans need to start taking responsibilities for their own lives. It is not the State that will support you but your hard work, yourentrepreneurial verve and your self-sufficiency. We know though that the reality for many of us – indeed, all of us – is that we cannot live alone. The mythical notion that being a valued human being equates with displaying great individual displays of autonomy and independence needs to be exposed in these dangerous times of global conflict, welfare cuts, precarious labour conditions and the fragmentation of our communities. And this is where disability can help us refresh the values that we attach to humanity.

Disabled activists, artists and researchers have long argued for a rethinking of those qualities that make us all human beings. People with impairments – whether they be sensory, physical or cognitive – have always demand imaginative ways of being human. Wheelchair users fuse human bodies with machinery in order to move. Disabled people have always been cyborgs. People with intellectual disabilities have helped to promote extended support networks, spanning communities, bringing individual human beings into more collective human gatherings. Disabled activists have pushed governments to embrace anti-disciminatory legislation that forces employers to (at the very least) acknowledge employing disabled people. And when employment for disabled people works it does so not only because the skills of disabled people have been allowed to shine but because forms of human support have been put in place to make workplaces inclusive, enabling and accessible. We might hope, then, that the 21st Century becomes a DisHuman century: a time when disability is adopted as the category for thinking again about what it means to be human. Hopefully, the humanity valued in this period of history will be one that emphasises mutual support, interdependence and an enabling blending of bodies, technology and culture.

Dan Goodley, School of Education, University of Sheffield, October 2015

Dan Goodley, Katherine Runswick-Cole & Kirsty Liddiard (2015) ‘The DisHuman Child’Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education: Special Issue: Fabulous Monsters: alternative discourses of childhood in education DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2015.1075731

Goodley, D., Lawthom, R. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2014) Posthuman disability studies, Subjectivity. Subjectivity 7, 342-361,doi:10.1057/sub.2014.15

Goodley, D. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2014) Becoming dis/human: Thinking about the human through disability, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, DOI: 1080/01596306.2014.930021