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Contesting representations of disabled children in picture-books: visibility, the body and the social model of disability

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This article will contribute to recent debates in disability studies over the place of the body within the social model of disability, currently a key theoretical tradition within British disability studies. It draws on interviews, focus groups, creative audience research and observation of a community arts project which took place in north-west England between 2005 and 2007. A central aim of the project, which was managed by a large disability charity, was to make disabled children more visible in children's books. However, the project was committed to the social model of disability which sets aside questions of embodiment to focus on the political, social and economic environments that disable people with impairments. As a consequence, the bodies of disabled children played an unsettling role within the project. Participant observation identified disagreements between project management, disabled people, adults and children over how children's bodies should be discussed, imaged and narrated. These tensions were negotiated in part through the choice of pictures and stories included on the project's website. The article suggests that 'disability-critique' can take place within disability charities, with the social model coexisting with other discourses around disability and childhood. I argue that this combination of discourses ultimately undermined the project's aims to demonstrate the commercial and creative value of inclusive children's books and thus enable disabled children to see themselves represented adequately in mainstream children's media.

Keywords: children; children's books; disability; representation; the body; voluntary organisations

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: February 1, 2009


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