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Disability: Western Theories

  1. Sarah L Woodin

Published Online: 15 MAY 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005213.pub2



How to Cite

Woodin, S. L. 2012. Disability: Western Theories. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAY 2012


The theoretical underpinnings of conventional, individualistic medical conceptions of disability have in recent decades been challenged by various socio-political approaches rooted in the collective experiences of disabled people and their organisations. Disability studies has developed both within and outside the academy primarily through an analysis of the structures and practices that marginalise disabled people in society. In recent decades theoretical approaches have become wider and among others these now encompass materialism, cultural studies, poststructuralism, feminism and phenomenology. Recent debates have centred on the body, the degree to which it should be a focus for social investigation and how it should be theorised. All of this has significant implications for proponents of genetic interventions as solutions to the problem of disability.

Key Concepts:

  • Individual, medical conceptions of disability have been challenged by socio-political approaches.

  • Theoretical understandings of disablement have been given impetus by increasing evidence of social causes and implications.

  • Western theories of disability are characterised by increasing diversity of approaches, including materialist, cultural and poststructuralist.

  • Scientific understandings of disability have profound implications for life opportunities and situations of disabled people.


  • disability;
  • disablement;
  • illness;
  • impairment;
  • oppression