Being disabled: towards a critical social ontology for disability studies

Bill Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


In disability studies the question of ontology is establishing itself as a live issue. Whilst there are many arguments and tendencies emerging from this literature, this paper identifies and critically examines an approach to the ontological question in disability studies that is based on an appeal to frailty as a universal characteristic of humanity. The argument builds on the relatively familiar claim that everyone is only temporarily able-bodied. This approach is exemplified in recent work by Bryan Turner and by Tom Shakespeare and Nick Watson. I argue that their universalistic approach is problematic. While it may constitute a theoretical means of ameliorating the existential negativity associated with being disabled it does so at the expense of disability identity. What is required is a critical social ontology that problematises non-disablement and exposes the forms of invalidation that lie at the heart of disabling culture.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDisability and Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2007


  • social ontology
  • disability studies


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