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 A Talk With Professor Emeritus Colin Barnes
From The State We Were In, To the State We Are In: My Life, Achievements and Disappointments


This Online talk with Prof. Emeritus Colin Barnes reflected upon his life, career and achievements. He considered the state of disability studies in academia now and suggested what we need to do to continue the important work that was done in the past.


In essence, the talk (held on the 9th of August 2022) was an overwhelming success. 297 people (from 41 countries ranging from Australia, New Zealand - Hong Kong, Indonesia - India, South Africa, Egypt - Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, UK - Canada, Mexico, USA) registered to attend.

Audience comments were all favourable, and included expressions that summarised the talk as ...thought provoking ...challenging ...incredibly informative ...inspiring ...fantastic, and ...enjoyable.



The event was hosted by (In)justice International and @Centre for Culture and Disability Studies and was chaired by Dr Leah Burch (Liverpool Hope University). Panelists included Dr. Simon Prideaux ((In)Justice International), Professor Theresa Lorenzo (University of Cape Town), Dr Susan Eriksson (South Eastern Finland University), Professor Karen Soldatic (Western Sydney University) and Dr Alexis Buettgen (McMaster University).




 ...Do you have any opinion on Judy Singer's Neurodiversity? She says it builds on the social model of disability. ...Should Disability Studies departments be led by Disabled people? ...Was this research funded by the University, or by the BCODP itself, or some other source?


...How wonderful to hear more about your life Colin. Thank you so much for sharing. My question is: there is some criticism of the social model by postcolonial and indigenous scholars and activists for centring a white, Western view of disability that ignores the role of community and family and creates sharp binaries between disabled/non-disabled and disability/impairment that don’t reflect reality in global south settings. What are your (and others) thoughts on these criticisms?


...I am concerned that ‘fully accessible’ disability studies books are not and never have been ‘fully accessible’ to people with learning difficulties/intellectual disabilities. What can we do as critical disability studies scholars and activists to stop disabling people with learning difficulties/intellectual disabilities by excluding them from access to information?


...I wondered if you could expand a bit on where you think disability studies are at right now. I’m thinking in particular on the emphasis in many DS studies on discourse analysis and identity formation at the expense of analyses of economic exclusion, political structures in relation to disabled people, or segregated institutions function. You criticised this in a number of texts in the early 2010s, and wondered what you’d made of recent developments.


...Good evening! Many thanks for this amazing talk. I am from Brazil and have visual impairment (low vision/Stargardt disease). And very interested in the ways that people with low sight and blind are featuring graphic arts and audiovisual to figure out visual impairment and interact with others in social media. Particularly in the work of a Brazilian teenage girl in Instagram: the artist uses the image to express daily situation at school and home. She created characters that embody perceptions and feelings shared by many people with low sight. Do you think the use of image for describes and compares figures and patterns in a series of images, created by people with moderate and severe levels of visual impairment, from different places around the world (Brazil, United State, England, Pakistan etc) could be valuable to understand and change discrimination issues among young people?


...Would love to hear Colin's thoughts on employment policy and the lack of demand side focus. How can we use the social model to get this changed, and to influence policy makers? ...Would love to hear Colin's thoughts on employment policy and the lack of demand side focus. How can we use the social model to get this changed, and to influence policy makers?


...What is the relevance of inclusion in the current context of education? ...Colin, do you think there's any potential to promote disability studies in secondary schools, possibly by having the social model of disability as part of the Citizenship programme?


...Thank you so much for this space and this rich history. I was wondering about the tensions, limits and possibilities of the social model to address impairments and disablement (interesting to discuss both!) that are produced by violence (e.g. in armed conflict or through the use of non-lethal weapons in protest).


...Amazing to hear Colin's talk. I'm wondering what Colin thinks - what might be the benefits of developing further the social model of impairment similar to social model of disability (because impairment also gets socially produced through war, poverty, medical negligence or lack of access to decent healthcare)? I remember Mike Oliver responded to critics of the social model who claimed that the impairment is absent, by saying 'let's then develop social model of impairment'.


...Do you think the mashing together of all the equalities legislation weakened disability rights in the UK?

 ...Hi Colin - would like your thoughts on invisible disabilities - now increasing in size worldwide due to long covid - and how disability studies and medical sociology can theorise these issues.

...I’m wondering about the ongoing impact of Covid (and the many ways it affects disabled people). It seemed like many kinds of events became temporarily more accessible to a wide array of people (but this is falling away now that it is no longer of concern to nondisabled people). Shouldn’t we be making the case that academic events remain hybrid—as a matter of accessibility—and how can we make that case?


...I'd be interested in your thoughts on the idea that oppression is disabling - and how this gives new meaning to the Social Model. How, for example, poverty can lead to physical impairment through manual labour, or the psychological damage caused by things like racism, sexism etc.  And how this brings new meaning to the idea that it is society that disables us?


...What are some of the more pressing issues in our field? What can we proactively be doing as researchers, considering the rising cost of living, poverty etc. ? ...What's your advice to disabled students and researchers facing barriers, discrimination, and ignorance?

...Obviously, your classed background positively influenced your viewpoint and the impact of your work.  The discipline of Sociology seems to have shifted away from class as a social inequality and attitudes towards the intersections of class and disability are often overlooked.  Do you think this has impacted how disability research is carried out?  For context I heard a well-known academic critic of the social model - saying that they thought ADHD was just a made-up condition for mothers to claim benefits.


...I agree with the tenets of the social model and the emphasis on the societal responses to particular conditions (or impairments), and that disability isn't a minority issue. In West Africa, where I come from the understanding of disability is deeply cultural with spiritual underpinnings ...does the medical model serve a purpose here if any, so society understands some of the medical conditions at play or unearthing some of the medical conditions also falls under the social model in its broad sense? (For instance, persons with particular disabilities are being killed for perceived good fortune, etc).


...Isn't the problem of engaging other departments in disability studies a manifestation of the, possibly unconscious, social oppression of disabled people? ...I am from Turkey and a human rights lecturer. here in human rights CSO separate the issue from the other rights movement. I even heard ‘we have all the other issues, who cares for disabled people in this situation.' There is a hierarchy in rights movement. how can we challenge this thinking?


...How might the social model (as well as other intellectual resources developed in the rich history of disability studies and activism in the UK) be contextualised and used given the differences in the genesis and experiences of disability in the majority and minority world? ...There's been a lot more representation of disabled people, especially disabled children and young people in film and television in the last 5-7 years, largely played by disabled actors. Do you think this helps with the acceptance problem during adolescence?

...Knowing what you do now, what would you do differently within the field of disability studies? (Thank you everyone for presenting this very interesting webinar).


Video highlights of the event can be found by clicking on the image below:


Reactions and Questions from the Audience

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