C. F. Goodey. Learning Disability and Inclusion Phobia: Past, Present, Future. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016. 184 pp. $160.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-82200-8.
Reviewed by Patrick McDonagh (Concordia University)
Published on H-Disability (September, 2016)
Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison
C. F. Goodey’s new book, Learning Disability and Inclusion Phobia: Past, Present, Future, can be read as a companion to his previous publication, A History of Intelligence and “Intellectual Disability” (2011). That book offered a comprehensive historical analysis, from the late medieval period to the early eighteenth century, to demonstrate that our contemporary ideas of intelligence and intellectual disability are historically contingent rather than historically (and biologically) constant, with intelligence having formed as a mode of bidding for status, in the context of other competing status systems--notably those of honor and grace. Goodey argues that the forms of validation and exclusion utilized by these systems were transferred to the ideas of “intelligence” and “intellectual disability” in this new status system, with the newly created “intellectually disabled” occupying the places formerly held by the vulgar (in the honor system) or the reprobate (in the grace system).
In this book, London-based Goodey brings together his work as an historian of ideas of intellectual disability (or learning disability, as it is termed in the United Kingdom) and his parallel career in qualitative research and advocacy. This work sets out to demonstrate that intelligence and learning disability are not only historically contingent, but also expressive of a pervasive characteristic of human societies that Goodey identifies--only in part satirically--as “inclusion phobia,” a delusional schizoid state of societies that is expressed in the need to determine an “out-group” of excluded individuals that lends validity to a dominant “in-group.” In Goodey’s argument, the out-group lying at the foundation of contemporary Western society is the learning disabled. This new book sets out to explore the conditions that create an out-group; the social, philosophical and professional structures that define and maintain this particular out-group; and strategies that might be undertaken to counter the malignant inclusion phobia and, ultimately, create a more inclusive society. It is therefore not only a work of intellectual history and social analysis, but also a call to transform ways of thinking about the idea of “learning disability.” It is also a satire and a polemic, insisting that our social and individual instances of “inclusion phobia” are the product of a pervasive schizoid delusion that disables our engagement with the world and results in the exile of those people designated by the term(s) “intellectually/developmentally/cognitively/learning disabled.”
Goodey’s fundamental claim is that, far from being a transhistorical and objective reality, learning disability is an “idea on the move” with a historical starting point “and perhaps a future finishing point too”; further, historical analysis “helps us to isolate learning disability and intelligence and holds them up for more thorough inspection” (p. 2). The bulk of the book is divided thematically rather than chronologically, with chapters entitled “Exclusion,” “Intelligence,” “Difference,” “Causes,” “Development,” and “Assessment”; the critical investigation of the subject of each chapter is supported by his historical analysis, juxtaposed with discussions of contemporary issues and illustrated by anecdotes. His final two chapters, “Autism and Its Creation” and “Autism in Context,” focus on what he argues is a contemporary instance of inclusion phobia. The sum is dense and challenging, but also compelling and inspiring.
While his short introductory section lays out the general plan for his argument, chapter 2, “Exclusion,” explores different approaches to addressing the question of inclusion phobia, the need to have an out-group whose very presence defines the characteristics of the in-group. As he points out, none of the prominent theorists representing the approaches he explores--most notably Mary Douglas (1921-2007) on impurity and Joseph Gabel (1912-2004) on false consciousness, but also Michel Foucault (1926-84), René Girard (1923-2015) and Henri Tajfel (1919-82)--discuss (or even refer to) learning disability, even though learning disability is the fundamental out-group--what Goodey designates the “extreme out-group”--for a society that presumes itself to reward intelligence meretriciously. But all, he proposes, can be drawn upon in developing a theory of inclusion phobia as a historically entrenched “collective disorder” defining societies.
Chapter 3, “Intelligence,” condenses the arguments of his previous book, demonstrating the historical development of contemporary ideas of intelligence. Chapter 4, “Difference,” explores how inclusion phobia demands and creates an out-group, tracking some of the processes by which this group is made “different” and exiled. As Goodey argues, “intellectual difference … has come to form the core out-group whose absences, by their very existence, define and etch in the present age of intelligent meritocracy”; further, “the sources of [inclusion] phobia are not popular prejudice or folklore, but the elite cultures of the medieval and early modern periods, whose direct legacy the modern human sciences are” (p. 73). Chapter 5, “Causes,” interrogates and links the various hypotheses proposed for the (presumed) presence of learning disability, from the devil to the gene; fundamental to his argument here is the discrepancy between mind and brain--the one, an immaterial concept, the other a fleshy mass--and the attempts to equate the two in much contemporary neuroscience. Chapter 6, “Development,” provides a brief historical analysis of the idea of psychological growth and development, stressing how this relatively recent notion is important to creating the extreme out-group of the learning disabled. Chapter 7, “Assessment,” investigates further the “morbid rationalism” (p. 110) that seeks to assign individuals to an out-group, with an emphasis on the ever-shifting, but ever-circular structures of assessment: as Goodey notes, like the “ancient symbol of a crocodile eating its own tail, a disability assessment does not just come after the disability, it also came before” (p. 115).
Chapters 8 and 9, both explore the formation of autism as a new out-group, albeit not from the intelligence meritocracy, but from the new “empathetic” human. Goodey argues that, like learning disability, autism is defined not by criteria based upon objective scientific observation, but rather by professional consensus, and thus the term designates a social, political category rather than a neurological condition.
There are issues one can take with Goodey’s analysis, and at many points readers may wish to see more supporting argument for his assertions. For the sake of brevity, one example will suffice to illustrate: in chapter 9, “Autism in Context,” he writes, “The sense that private thinking is dangerous has been transferred to a small number of pathological individuals, in an era when for the rest of us that personal, internalized privacy has itself become thoroughly invaded” (p. 151)--and at this point the chapter’s subsection on autism and “Private Thinking” comes to an end, and we move on to a new subsection. So we may pause and wonder whether our own personal, internalized privacy has been thoroughly invaded, and how this has taken place--or we can flow with Goodey’s rhetoric on to subsequent arguments and observations. I’m inclined to agree with Goodey--I watch people shuffling, zombie-like, through my neighborhood, staring at their cellphones in quest of Pokemon, and I can’t help but think their internal existence has been colonized--but I’m filling in rather than following his argument here.
As noted above, the book is satire as well as historical and social analysis. The core satirical conceit, that societies suffer from a psychosis expressed as “inclusion phobia,” is also expressed, ironically and effectively, as “exclusion spectrum disorder” when he notes the graduated levels of social acceptability accorded to variations of autism--say, Asperger’s syndrome as opposed to profound autism linked with learning disability. The satire provides a shape for his argument (his analysis throughout the book can also read as a diagnosis of what ails society) and also establishes a tone for his writing, which is sharply, wittily observant, so that the rhetorical payoff for following a closely argued passage is often a wry punchline that further illuminates the argument. One brief toss-off example: Goodey describes “Robert Burton’s ubiquitous The Anatomy of Melancholy [as] a kind of seventeenth-century DSM” (p. 86).
In sum, this book offers a compelling, invigorating reading of the place of people diagnosed as having learning disabilities, and an explication of how that place--beyond the pale of human society--has come to be. It also offers strategies for mitigating the effect of inclusion phobia, and working toward a cure for this delusion. As such, the book is a must-read not only for anyone interested in the history of ideas of disability and intelligence, but also for anyone concerned with their future.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-disability.
Patrick McDonagh. Review of Goodey, C. F., Learning Disability and Inclusion Phobia: Past, Present, Future.
H-Disability, H-Net Reviews.
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