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Disability and Social Movements (Interdisciplinary Disability Studies)

Carling-Jenkins, Rachel

Ashgate, Aldershot (2014)
ISBN: 9781472446329 (hb)

Reviewed by Joanne Heeney, University of York

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Cover of Disability and Social Movements (Interdisciplinary Disability Studies) In the first book since 2004 to address the history of disability in Australia, Carling-Jenkins tracks the campaigning by, and ensuing legislative changes relating to, Australian women and Indigenous Australians alongside the growth of disability rights activism to show how the human rights struggles of these social groups have progressed over time. Working in a British context, it is particularly interesting to understand these issues in a different cultural, social and political landscape. This is a useful text for students interested in social justice and the development of, and challenges faced by, social movements in working towards achieving it.

The book has seven chapters, each with a distinct theme. The opening chapter sets out the positioning of disabled people in Australia and offers an overview of their struggles for rights and citizenship over time. The author summarises and critiques the policy responses to this agenda. The following chapters outline Carling-Jenkins’ theoretical position. She begins by addressing the complexities of theorising around disability. This section of the book provides a concise and well written evaluation of medical model theory, and the implications of the model for disabled people themselves, before explaining the development and relevance of more contemporary social model theories. This section of the book is particularly useful for students who wish to understand these complex theoretical ideas and apply them to their own work.

Carling-Jenkins then justifies her choice of a postmodernist and Foucauldian approach. She theorises disability, gender and racism as diverse, contextual and fluid. At the same time she retains goals of working towards social justice as a key driver for her work. This positioning is particularly relevant for the tool of analysis she develops later in her book. In acknowledging the diversity and contextual differences that frame the lives of oppressed individuals, she avoids homogenisation and identity politics whilst retaining broader visions of addressing oppression through collective vision and action.

The following sections of the book offer a historical overview of how key incidents of social activism have influenced social policy and legislation for women, indigenous people and disabled people in Australia. These examples serve to illustrate the ongoing oppression and discrimination faced by disabled people in particular. In her examination of the disability rights movement in Australia, grounded in key documentation, she reflects on the struggle for some to be heard and the competing voices and priorities contributing towards this. Carling-Jenkins explains how this lack of coherence has affected the lives of disabled people in Australia, and interestingly, how this has also affected the development of critical disability studies in Australian universities. As a UK student, this section of Next, Carling-Jenkins develops a tool for the analysis of social movements. Her method addresses the collectives represented, the challenges these collectives face in unification, and the conflicts they enter into in order to achieve social changes.

She applies this tool to both the Australian Women’s Rights Movement, and to the development of the Indigenous People’s Movement, analysing how significant and, at times, diverse voices and events have combined to work towards broader visions of social justice. Carling-Jenkins then applies this tool ‘to locate, describe and analyse the disability rights movement’ (p. 72) in Australia. She includes in her analysis the policy responses that ensued as a result of collective struggles.

Carling-Jenkins’ analysis is thorough and powerful and perhaps most significantly, demonstrates how the rights struggles of these groups slowly enter public consciousness. Her conclusion emphasises the need for ongoing action, that social justice has not been fully realised and that struggles for equality and voice have not been achieved. Therefore, while much has been achieved, there is still much to do.