Author Archives: donna

Psycho-emotional disablism: The missing link? (chapter, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism: The missing link?’, in N. Watson, A. Roulstone and C. Thomas (eds) Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies, London: Routledge, pp. 78-92.

This book chapter uses the phenomenological concept of social dys-appearance to highlight the embodied nature of psycho-emotional disablism and the manner in which it is mediated by impairment and impairment effects via the operation of cultural prejudices about disability.


Preparation for practice: Can philosophy have a place in helping students incorporate the social model of disability within their praxis? (article, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Preparation for practice: Can philosophy have a place in helping students incorporate the social model of disability within their praxis?’, Social Work Education 31(2): 226-233.


This short paper emerges from an engagement with the paper by Morgan in this special edition which argues that the social model of disability can be viewed as a threshold concept which students struggle to ‘get’. I suggest that introducing social work students to philosophical concepts such as recognition at an early stage of their learning about skills, values and anti-oppressive practice, could facilitate the transition over this disability studies threshold, reducing the potential for ritualised performance instead of true understanding. It will be argued that Honneth’s account of recognition in particular can be helpful in reducing the risk of psycho-emotional disablism within professional relationships between social work students and disabled service users. However I also suggest that encouraging students to engage with philosophical questions about personhood and humanity are crucial to maintaining true anti-oppressive practice at a time of financial cutbacks in social work services.


Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress (chapter, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress’, in J. Anderson, B. Sapey and H. Spandler (eds) Distress or Disability? Proceedings of a symposium held at Lancaster Disability 15-16 November 2011, Lancaster: Centre for Disability Research, Lancaster University, pp. 24-29.

This chapter is an extended version of the symposium paper. The other papers presented at this symposium can be found in the proceedings.

The ideas presented in this chapter looking at the relevance of psycho-emotional disablism for those people experiencing mental distress were then further developed in a subsequent book chapter.


Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress (paper, 2011)

Reeve, D. (2011) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress’, paper presented at Disability or Distress symposium, Lancaster University, 15-16 November.


This paper will explore what the concept of psycho-emotional disablism can bring to discussions about the relevance (or not) that the social model of disability has for those people who experience mental distress. Questions to be considered will include:

  • Does the recognition of disablism in both its structural and psycho-emotional forms make the traditional ‘social model of disability’ more relevant to people experiencing mental distress?
  • How does psycho-emotional disablism help understandings of the impact of prejudice and hate crime, both of which have higher rates of occurrence for people experiencing mental distress than other groups of disabled people?
  • How might psycho-emotional disablism intertwine with experiences of mental distress?
  • What relevance might this have for debates to date about psycho-emotional disablism and impairment/impairment effects more generally within disability studies?

This work-in-progress will show the potential benefits to be gained by using a more nuanced definition of disablism which explicitly includes forms of oppression that operate at both the public and private level. This discussion will also contribute to ongoing theoretical debates about the complex and blurred relationship(s) between disablism and impairment within disability studies which are exemplified by the experiences of people living with mental distress.


This seminar paper was developed into Reeve, D. (2015) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress’, in H. Spandler, J. Anderson and B. Sapey (eds) Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement, Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 99-112.

Psycho-emotional disablism and the ‘dys-appearing’ body: Implications for the disability/impairment divide (keynote, 2011)

Reeve, D. (2011) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism and the ‘dys-appearing’ body: Implications for the disability/impairment divide’, paper presented at Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane (2nd international conference), Manchester Metropolitan University, 14-15 September (keynote).


The social model of disability has been criticised for maintaining an artificial separation of the impaired body from socially constructed disability. Whilst politically this has been very useful in helping the disabled people’s movement recognise and challenge forms of social oppression experienced by people with impairments, this dichotomy fails to recognise the ‘carnal politics of everyday life’ (Paterson and Hughes, 1999). Drawing on phenomenological concepts, these authors showed that when people with impairments experience disabling barriers such as patronising behaviour, then the impaired body is brought into focus, ‘dys-appearing’ because of its perceived ‘abnormality’.

It is clear that the experience of psycho-emotional disablism (Thomas, 2007) which arises from disablist attitudes and behaviours at the interpersonal level, is closely related to Paterson and Hughes’ account of the ‘dys-appearing’ body. Therefore, one aim of this paper is to examine what the concept of social dys-appearance can bring to an analysis of different forms of psycho-emotional disablism. I will show that this provides a useful deconstruction of internalised oppression, identifying the difference between ‘false consciousness’ and ‘double consciousness’. I then extend the analysis to the experiences of ‘passing’ and creating oneself as the ‘disabled subject’ when applying for disability benefits.

These examples show that psycho-emotional disablism is embodied, which in turn has implications for discussions about the impairment/disability divide. Rather than ignoring impairment (social model) or suggesting that impairment is socially constructed, instead I will suggest that when considering psycho-emotional disablism, it is necessary to take account of impairment as part of the analysis of disablism. Bodies do matter; impaired bodies are not all considered equally in the cultural psyche. Therefore it could be predicted that prejudice (which leads to psycho-disablism) is mediated by perceived impairment – that psycho-emotional disablism can take different forms depending on what is known/visible to the other (non) disabled person.

From geek to theory chick: Developing understanding(s) of psycho-emotional disablism (keynote, 2011)

Reeve, D. (2011) ‘From geek to theory chick: Developing understanding(s) of psycho-emotional disablism’, paper presented at Postgraduate disability research: A critical space to engage, Warwick University, 13 July (keynote).


In this paper I reflect on the intellectual journey taken during the time I
studied for my PhD – complete with missed turnings and numerous
mechanical breakdowns. I then discuss the impact that several different
theorists have had on the way in which I have explored the concept of psychoemotional
disablism, showing the rich insights which interdisciplinary thinking
can bring. Finally I end by identifying some of the questions which face those
of us in critical disability studies if our work is to remain relevant to the
everyday lives of disabled people.

Disablist hate crime and psycho-emotional disablism: Interconnections and insights (paper, 2010)

Reeve, D. (2010) ‘Disablist hate crime and psycho-emotional disablism: Interconnections and insights’, paper presented at 5th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 7-9 September.


Disability hate crime is slowly starting to be recognised as a reality for many disabled people (Sin et al, 2009; Quarmby, 2008) but there are recognized problems with the UK justice system which mean that hostility towards disabled people is often labelled as anti-social behaviour rather than hate crime. The manner in which experiences of disability hate crime are ‘downgraded’ adds further injury to these experiences of systematic violence which are one of the five faces of oppression which minority groups such as disabled people experience (Young, 1990).

Although there are severe incidents of disability hate crime which make the national headlines, it is the daily grind of low-level incidents such as name-calling which affect more disabled people. These examples of psycho-emotional disablism which undermine emotional well-being and self-esteem are cumulative and can be affected by previous experiences of psycho-emotional disablism including internalised oppression. Quarmby (2008) offers a useful discussion of how entrenched disablism within our culture and society, enacted through language and prejudice, means that disability hate crime can exist without being recognised by such, by both victim, perpetrator and others.

In this paper I will present some exploratory ideas about how the concept of psycho-emotional disablism can contribute to theoretical understandings of disability hate crime by considering the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between psycho-emotional disablism and disability hate crime?
  • How might past/present experiences of psycho-emotional disablism impact on a person’s ‘risk’ of being a victim of disability hate crime and the consequential ‘hurt’ that the hate crime causes?
  • How might an understanding of psycho-emotional disablism affect the kinds of support offered to disabled people who experience disability hate crime?
  • What can recent psychoanalytic approaches to the disabled subject (Goodley, forthcoming) contribute to understanding why disability hate crime happens and the (lack of) institutional/societal responses to these crimes?

Although there is a recent body of research which is documenting the experiences of disability hate crime, there is relatively little theoretical disability studies analysis of disability hate crime (although see for example Sherry (2000; 2003; 2010)). In the light of a growing need to address the realities of disability hate crime in the UK, it is hoped that this paper will kindle academic discussions akin to those existing in the related fields of race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender hate crime.

Beyond the social model: The experience of psycho-emotional disablism (paper, 2010)

Reeve, D. (2010) ‘Beyond the social model: The experience of psycho-emotional disablism’, paper presented at RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, Royal Geographical Society, London, 1-3 September.


This paper will discuss the experience of psycho-emotional disablism, which is a neglected dimension of disablism often relegated to the realm of ‘personal trouble’ rather than ‘political issue’ by typical social model analyses of disability.

One way of rectifying this omission is to use an extended social relational definition of disablism (Thomas, 2007). This framework explicitly recognises the social oppression experienced by people with impairments which operates at both the public and personal levels, affecting what people can do (structural disablism) as well as who they can be (psycho-emotional disablism).

Structural disablism includes the barriers typically associated with the social model such as inaccessible environments and discrimination in employment. Psycho-emotional disablism is a form of social oppression which undermines emotional well-being, self-worth and self-esteem such as dealing with prejudicial comments as well as internalized oppression.

Both structural and psycho-emotional disablism can exclude people with impairments – a wheelchair user can be excluded by the reactions of others e.g. the ‘Does he take sugar?’ response from strangers as well as by a flight of steps at the front of a building. Therefore, any sociological understanding of the lived experience of disablism has to take account of social oppression that operates at both the public and personal levels, structural disablism and psycho-emotional disablism.

Drawing on accounts of people with physical impairments I will discuss the complex nature of (in)direct psycho-emotional disablism and reveal how it is intertwined with structural disablism, impairment effects, time, place, space and other facets of someone’s identity.

Biopolitics and bare life: Does the impaired body provide contemporary examples of homo sacer? (chapter, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘Biopolitics and bare life: Does the impaired body provide contemporary examples of homo sacer?’, in K. Kristiansen, S. Vehmas and T. Shakespeare (eds) Arguing about Disability: Philosophical Perspectives, London: Routledge, pp. 203-217.


Agamben describes the concept of homo sacer which refers to someone whose “entire existence is reduced to a bare life stripped of every right by virtue of the fact that anyone can kill him [sic] without committing homicide” (Agamben, 1998:183). Homo sacer can be considered to be an outlaw or bandit; someone who is not simply outside the law and indifferent to it, but who has instead been abandoned by the law. This renders homo sacer exposed and threatened on the threshold where life and law, inside and outside, become indistinguishable. Whilst Agamben uses homo sacer to analyse contemporary Western politics, I will utilise this figure on a less grand scale to present some initial ideas about how homo sacer can provide a model for the exclusion of disabled people from participation in society.

I will argue that foetal screening and the recently proposed (and rejected) Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill represent clear examples of bare life within which  “normative schemes of intelligibility establish what will and will not be human, what will be a liveable life, what will be a grievable death” (Butler, 2004: 146). I will also explore the ways in which institutional care of disabled people and enforced psychiatric hospitalisation can be linked to recent discussions about the nature of refugee camps and detention centres – examples of modern day ‘camps’ which represent states of exception.

Finally I will use the concept of homo sacer to consider some examples of psycho-emotional disablism arising from the experience of living and moving within the zones of indistinction between inclusion and exclusion, exception and rule. This paper aims to show that the liminal figure of homo sacer offers an alternative to existing Foucauldian analyses of disability which focus on the production of normality rather than the suspension of law and production of exception provided by Agamben.

This chapter was my first publication using the work of Agamben, an approach which underpinned my PhD thesis.


Ableism and disability studies: The myth of the reliable and contained body (paper, 2010)

Reeve, D. (2010) ‘Ableism and disability studies: The myth of the reliable and contained body’, paper presented at Critical Disability Studies Conference: Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane, Manchester Metropolitan University, 12-13 May.


Disability studies literature has focused on the production of disablism, the practices and assumptions which underpin the social oppression of people with impairments. In contrast, ableism, refers to the privileging of able-bodiedness and is created by a ‘network of beliefs, processes and practices that produce a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, as the species-typical, and, therefore, as essential and fully human’ (Campbell, 2005: 127). As well as contributing to the valuing of a body which moves, thinks, speaks, sees and hears ‘normally’, able-bodiedness also privileges a body that is reliable and contained.

In some respects, disability studies analyses of disablism have been unduly influenced by these ableist assumptions, concentrating on the ‘paradigmatic person with a disability [who] is healthy disabled and permanently and predictably impaired’ (Wendell, 2001:21). This leaves the so-called ‘unhealthy disabled’, those with chronic illness, underrepresented in accounts of experiences of disablism. Related to the ideal of the reliable body, is the importance that bodies are also contained; one of the markers of adulthood, as opposed to childhood, is that bowel and bladder are controlled. However incontinence is a common impairment effect for many disabled adults and fear of an ‘accident’ can keep someone isolated at home as effectively as any other disabling barrier.

This paper will explore the challenges which unreliable and leaky bodies represent for the individual as well as for disability studies, supporting the argument that the experience of (dis)ableism is crucially interconnected with impairment and impairment effects.