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Disability, Rehabilitation Research and Post-Cartesian Embodied Ontologies – Has the Research Paradigm Changed?

Environmental Contexts and Disability

ISBN: 978-1-78441-263-0, eISBN: 978-1-78441-262-3

Publication date: 4 November 2014



Since the mid-1990s, the social model of disability has come under scrutiny. Several researchers have examined the role of ontology (philosophical ideas about the nature of what it means to be human) in relation to disability. In this paper, we situate this burgeoning understanding of disability within the set of post-cartesian ontologies, which disrupt the separation of the mind from the body and its attendant dichotomies. Furthermore, we seek to show how such a change can carry through to the research paradigm and therefore affect tangible outcomes of disability research.


A commitment to an embodied ontology requires first and foremost that researchers rethink what is being studied by focusing on the diverse characteristics of being and its actualization within the world. This will involve an emphasis on the lived experience of the body, including issues of affect, identity and movement, as well as broader issues of embodied being.


Using a research program currently underway at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration (CIRRIS) as a detailed example, we draw on the ontological framework to help articulate the way research can be re-organized. We show how projects at different scales can be brought to work together, and highlight how a focus on embodiment issues facilitates such multi-disciplinary, inter-project collaboration. We note that adopting such an ontology-based framework will accomplish three major outcomes: (1) increase the relevance and effectiveness of new projects with regard to the overall vision; (2) enhance cross-project synergies and ensure stronger ties between research and practice; and (3) contribute to shifting the underlying ontology from a more cartesian approach to a post-cartesian embodied perspective.


The new ontologies embrace, integrate and extend the earlier social and biomedical perspectives, and offer a critical perspective on technology. The embodied approach recognizes not only the embodiment of research subjects, but also the embodied experience of the researchers themselves. In addition, the approach leads to a more holistic organization of research within a global, interconnected structure of projects rather than simply a collection of separate projects organized into thematic areas, as was done in previous decades. This reorganization of research enhances the ability to engage academic researchers with practitioners not just in the hospital and clinical settings, but also within the wider community.




We would like to acknowledge the assistance of David Fiset in several aspects of the preparation of the paper, as well as the extensive comments provided by the anonymous reviewers on the first version of the article submitted. Their highly insightful comments motivated a substantial rewrite of the paper, resulting in a much clearer and more complete document.


Edwards, G., Noreau, L., Boucher, N., Fougeyrollas, P., Grenier, Y., McFadyen, B.J., Morales, E. and Vincent, C. (2014), "Disability, Rehabilitation Research and Post-Cartesian Embodied Ontologies – Has the Research Paradigm Changed?", Environmental Contexts and Disability (Research in Social Science and Disability, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 73-102.



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