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Why study the history of learning disability?

C. F. Goodey (Honorary Fellow, Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Tizard Learning Disability Review

ISSN: 1359-5474

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




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.



Goodey, C.F. (2015), "Why study the history of learning disability?", Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 3-10.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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