Rethinking Knowledge and Power: Reflections on the Disability Community in Canada (presentation)

Presentation to the Canadian Disability Studies Association/Association
Canadienne des Études sur L’Incapacité
Wilfrid Laurier University, Congress 2012
31 May 2012

Michael J. Prince

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Canadian disability community

  • Comprises several arenas:
    • diverse sector of service organizations
    • policy community of interest groups and coalitions
    • comparatively new social movement
    • constitutional category of citizens under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
    • research and knowledge production network

Divergent perspectives on ability/disablement

  • charitable paternalism
  • spiritual humanitarianism
  • practices of medical expertise
  • welfare or warfare statism
  • forbidden narratives
  • experiential stories versus official rhetoric
  • discourse on systemic oppression

Canadian State as a site of knowledge/power on disability

  1. Production of data and the dissemination of information
  2. Suppression of information sharing and of knowledge generation and contestation
  3. Hierarchical classification of knowledge
  4. Regulation of information production and circulation
  5. Cooptation of innovative ideas and critical discourses

The politics of knowledge production

  • Numerous ways of manufacturing, managing and manoeuvring data, information and discourse
  • Not so much about generating evidence in contrast to ignorance, as about multiple forms of knowledge interacting with, and struggling against each other within power relationships
  • Certain ideas and information on disability are organized into public debate and policy making while other ideas and information are organized out of official politics

Future for Disability Studies

  • A promising part lies in remembering the past and in recovering historical knowledge
  • Using conceptions of power and knowledge that:
    • acknowledge negative and productive effects
    • take into account the full range of governing mechanisms and policy instruments at play in state structures and civil institutions
    • recognize continuities and disjunctures in the exercise of authority, and thus the possibilities for resistance and social change
  • Connecting with disability activism

Michael J. Prince
Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy
Faculty of Human and Social Development

Disabling Poverty and Enabling Citizenship CURA