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2004 Conference Archive
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The attribution of 'authorship' in cultural interpretations of 'disability'

Rebecca Mallett, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield

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In a response to recent debates around 'charitable representations of disability', this paper strategically places such representations within a wider contemporary cultural context and aims to move beyond a traditional deciphering approach to representations by challenging the a-priori categorisations we use to understand them.

I will begin with some thoughts on how cultural representations of disability have been afforded so much significance. Is it because they appear tangible; they can be seen, heard, owned, repeated and exchanged? Or could it be that they are thought to come from somewhere specific and in doing so encourage authors to be attributed? The paper will continue with a focus on the practice of attributing 'authorship' and look at how it has become linked to notions of 'authorisation', 'authenticity' and 'ontological definitions' in the academic play of understanding. It will also draw on research conducted within a leading UK disability charity to explore the possibilities of treating charitable 'authorship' as an active process, rather than a discrete moment in time, where speaking positions are sanctioned and authority bestowed. The paper ends by suggesting that considering representations as implicated in a mesh of cultural/academic practices is a departure from the orthodoxy of current analysis offering an alternative and potentially fruitful interpretative option.

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