A Plea for Commonality: Disability History, Discourses of Rehabilitation, and the Individual

Since the late twentieth century, disability history has grown out of its infancy. Scholars from a variety of backgrounds have increasingly become convinced of the value of looking at the past through the lens of disability. Many studies have focused on the constructed nature of disability and thus deliberately tried to deconstruct contemporary distinctions between able-bodied and disabled individuals. By positively revaluing the particular position of the individual with disabilities on the basis of historical narratives, an attempt was made to counter ongoing tendencies of discrimination and oppression. In this article, we would like to remind the reader of another approach which sometimes runs the danger of being snowed under, namely a historical venture that seeks to uncover commonalities: places where the distinctions between persons with and without disabilities are temporarily forgotten and/or erased, ‘moments where the boundaries of otherness and sameness, of individual and collective identity are redrawn’ (Jenkins, 2014). In order to do so, we will draw on an influential discourse from the history of disability itself: the discourse of rehabilitation. Going back to the early twentieth century, we will present the work of French scientist Jules Mardochée Amar and two Belgian disabled soldiers from the First World War. Amar’s ideas on rehabilitation would prove influential for the actual practices of rehabilitation during and after the war. The two Belgian disabled soldiers were retrained in a professional institute for rehabilitation established by the Belgian government in the north of France. By juxtaposing Amar’s discourse with the experiences of the two Belgian soldiers, we will demonstrate how, besides the discursive individual of rehabilitation, one also can find moments were that individual is absorbed by a real and tangible commonality. As a consequence, everybody – whether able-bodied citizen or mutilated soldier – becomes part of a community of equals.

Afficher cette publication dans notre dépôt institutionnel (orbi.lu).