Researching the Social Construction of Blindness

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Beth Omansky Gordon


insider research, blindness, social construction


Research on blind people has been dominated by literature written from the perspectives of medicine, rehabilitation and psychology, focusing on disease and its effects, psychological aspects of blindness (grief and loss), adaptation and coping strategies, and employment.  Blindness is positioned absolutely on the individual, as if it occurs in a social vacuum. This approach assumes that blindness is solely a medical event, and not a social process.  One exception to this pattern is Scott's (1969) groundbreaking social constructionist approach to blindness and society. Scott's phrase "blind men (sic) are born, not made" emphasized the role of blindness workers in the socialization of blind people. Scott's work on the social construction of blindness has been built upon in the last decade by interdisciplinary blindness literature, strongly influenced by disability studies (e.g., Michalko, 1999, 2001, 2003; Kleege, 1999; Kudlick, 2002; French, 2001, 1999; 1993). This paper will analyze the contributions of this new literature, and highlight gaps which still exist within the literature on the experience of blindness both as an impairment and as a set of disabling social processes.  In this context, I will briefly discuss my plan to do insider research with legally blind people.  This paper asserts that doing social constructionist research on both impairment and disablement will help fill gaps in both the blindness and disability studies literature. My own research on blindness seems to be the first study in the United States which utilizes the British-born emancipatory social model of disability. By infusing this model into American blindness research I hope to contribute to the expanding international discourse on disability studies.

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