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1 - Disability and Otherness in the British Empire

Disablement as a Discourse of Difference

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2022

Esme Cleall
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

This chapter explores the discourses used to construct disability as different in nineteenth-century Britain and its empire. First, I argue that in this period a constellation of figures came to be seen as a class of people distinct from the remainder of the British population. The census and philanthropic literature functioned to crystallise disability as something tangible and other. Conceptualising disabled people in this way required considerable discursive, architectural, administrative, philanthropic and pedagogical work and this work occurred both in the empire overseas and at home in imperial Britain. Secondly, I argue that the status of Britain, throughout the nineteenth century, as the heart of a global empire, was crucial to how ideas about disability came to be formed. My third argument is that whilst empire shaped the way in which disability was constructed, the reverse was also true: thinking about disability moulded the way in which the colonial ‘other’ was imagined. People of colour who may otherwise be considered non-disabled were repeatedly described using language that evoked disablement. My overarching argument is, therefore, that discourses of race and disability, whilst not one and the same, were not simply related discourses but were mutually constituted.

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Chapter
Information
Colonising Disability
Impairment and Otherness Across Britain and Its Empire, c. 1800–1914
, pp. 25 - 61
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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