M Miles


The article reviews components and recent discussion of the ‘Social Model of Disability’, with special focus on two books, Disability Rights and Wrongs by Tom Shakespeare, and The Social Model: Europe and the Majority World edited by Colin Barnes and Geof Mercer. The ‘Social Model’ calls for close and sceptical scrutiny, as it has become one of the most influential metanarratives in campaigns and publications of the ‘Disability Movement’, while tending to overlook the complexities experienced by many disabled people and their relatives. Some components of a Social Model appear in historical literature of Asia and the Middle East, lending credibility to its ongoing life as an interesting idea. Yet current anglophone advocacy of the model makes assumptions of universality that are questionable in the socio-economic situations experienced by much of the global population having disabilities. A calmer and better informed discussion of the model’s merits and flaws would contribute to greater understanding of global disability.

DOI 10.5463/DCID.v22i1.14




Social model; disability

Full Text:



Shakespeare T. Disability Rights and Wrongs. Oxford: Routledge, 2006.

Barnes C, Mercer G, eds. The Social Model of Disability: Europe and the Majority World. Leeds: Disability Press, 2005.

Chuang-Tzu. The Seven Inner Chapters and other writings, transl. Graham AC. London, Allen & Unwin, 1981: 4, 72-5, 79-81.

Cowell EB, ed. Jataka, or Stories of the Buddha’s former births. Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1993; VI: 1-19.

Vinson M, transl. St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Select Orations. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003: 44-45.

Jacobi H, transl. Gaina Sutras translated from Prakrit, Part I. Oxford: Clarendon, 1884: 152-3.

Al-Jahiz. Kitab ad-Dalael wa al-Itibar (On the Wonders of Creation), Aleppo, 1927: 49. Quoted in translation by Haj F, Disability in Antiquity. New York: Philosophical Library, 1970: 159.

Rousseau J-J. Émile, ou de l’éducation. Paris: Duchesne, 1762.

Devries D. ‘Be converted and become as little children’: Friedrich Schleiermacher on the religious significance of childhood. In: Bunge MJ, ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001: 341-2.

Baker HS, Jones S. Adding a spiritual dimension to the biopsychosocial model: psychoanalysis, Kohut, Schleiermacher, Buber, and Marcel. (Accessed 2011 March 18).

Skinner T. Excursions in India. 2nd ed. London: Bentley, 1833: 36-8.

Porter R. A Social History of Madness. London: Phoenix, 1996: 137.

Dexter LA. A social theory of mental deficiency. Am J Mental Def, 1958; 62:920-8.


Shakespeare T, Watson N. The social model of disability: an outdated ideology? Research in Social Science and Disability, 2001;2:9-28. doi:10.1016/S1479-3547(01)80018-X

Review Symposium: Disability Rights and Wrongs? Disability & Society, 2007;22:209-34. doi:10.1080/09687590701195274

Shakespeare T. Debating disability. J Med Ethics, 2008;34:11-4. PMid:18156512

Rickell, A. Let’s see the social model on the catwalk. (Accessed 2011 March 18).

Rehabilitation Codes. Classification of Impairment of Visual Function. Final Report 1968. (Publication status unclear. Copyright 1970 by Riviere M. Listed in US Library of Congress Index). (See pp. 3, 8.)

Stone E. From the research notes of a foreign devil: disability research in China. In: Barnes C, Mercer G, eds. Doing Disability Research. Leeds: Disability Press, 1997: 207-27.

Sharma U. Theodicy and the doctrine of karma. Man 1973;73(8 No.3):347-64. doi:10.2307/2800314

Singal N. Inclusive education in India: international concept, national interpretation. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 2006;53(3):351-69. doi:10.1080/10349120600847797


Copyright (c) 2015 M Miles

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Supported by:


© Disability, CBR & Inclusive Development