The purpose of this paper is to introduce practitioners and practice-based academics to the relevance of historical study to learning disability research.
States need to balance conceptual history against that of learning disabled individuals; reviews existing literature; offers guidelines for prospective historians; gives sample of findings from author's work elsewhere; draws conclusions.
Research which is conceptually based and goes back before the rise of the long-stay institutions reveals the historical contingency of learning disability not only as a concept but as a supposed “natural kind”, and exposes the more durable historical permanence of the phobia that creates “extreme outgroups”.
Of the very small amount of historical scholarship that engages with conceptual history before the modern era, none of it till now has sought to enquire about the relevance of its findings to current practice.
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