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Out of the ashes of eugenics: diagnostic regimes in the United States and the making of a disability minority

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Both early twentieth-century eugenics and late-century genetics authorize,anchor and certify diagnostic regimes Each discourse is positioned around a historical trajectory that moves from a 'curative ' promise of rehabilitation to an increasingly 'custodial ' proposition involving the pathologization and oversight of groups viewed as non-normative.Snyder and Mitchell interpret eugenics in the United States as an expansive testing regime that produced disabled people as a species of defective intelligence and aberrant physiology.What resulted was a frenzy of medical assessment that produced - for a time - a 'subnormal ' nation out of the classification of 'defective ' biologies..The newly professional scientific disciplines flocked to participate in the identification,care and training of those labelled 'feeble-minded '.Proliferating scientific representations of those deemed to inhabit 'subnormal ' bodies ultimately provided the justification for institutionalizing,sterilizing and destroying the liberty of those classified as inferior.The authors understand the repercussions of this methodology not as 'flawed ' science,,but as the basis for contemporary definitions of disability as degrees of deviation from profoundly subjective aesthetic and functional criteria.A study of the eugenics movement in the United States demonstrates that what we refer to today as physical and cognitive disability provides two paradoxical outcomes:first,those labelled as recipients of curative interventions tend to suffer the residual taint of their pathological identifications,while failing to benefit from the initial promises of 'cure ' so zealously espoused by diagnostic regimes; second, those who occupy medically based classifications of deviance serve as models for a more general comprehension of human biology even as the research subjects themselves are marginalized from social participation.

Keywords: defectives; diagnostic regime; disability; eugenics; genetics; pathology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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