On Monday, 22nd of January 2018, Antonios Ktenidis gave a lecture to clinical psychologists doing their Professional Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsych) at the University of East London on learning difficulties and Critical Disability Studies. This lecture was organised after the invitation of Dr Dora Whittuck, who informed him about the course and the 30 doctoral students. He was warmly welcomed by Dr Maria Castro Romero on the day.

The title of the lecture was “Learning Disabilities & Models of Disability: Implications for the Every Day Life of People with Learning Disabilities” and it centered on Dan Goodley’s article (2001) “Learning Difficulties’, The Social Model of Disability and Impairment: Challenging Epistemologies”. Along those lines, the lecture was designed to discuss how the way learning difficulties are defined, discussed and understood results to epistemological impacts that affect how people so-labelled are treated. This includes:

  • The definitions of what is commonly referred to as “learning difficulties” (medical & legal definitions, advocacy groups’ and firsthand definitions, terms used throughout history) with the purpose of identifying the underlying epistemologies and the aims they serve (e.g. biopolitics and governance).
  • A range of models of/approaches to disability (individual-medical model, social model, minority model, cultural model, relational model, crip studies, critical studies of ableism, dis/ability studies, global south disability studies), so that we shift from the binary individual-medical/social model and critically examine what other approaches have to offer.
  • The impact that such definitions and approaches have on the everyday life of people with learning difficulties (e.g. bureaucratic governmentality through assessments such as ‘fit to work’, scapegoating disabled people through their media representation as ‘scroungers’), especially during Austere times where neoliberal doctrines of independency, productivity and competition are so pervasive.

Recently, Antonios contributed to a collective paper (Dan Goodley, Ali Aldakhil, Michael Miller, Lindsay Miller), which is currently under review. In this paper he explores how disabled people are represented in media during the Austerity in the United Kingdom and the toll that such representations have on the everyday life of disabled people (e.g. ‘blame culture’ and politics of resentment (Hughes, 2015) and disability hate crime (Sherry, 2010). In this paper Antonios brings together affect theory (Ahmed, 2004) and biopolitics (Foucault, 1997) introducing ‘affective biopedagogies’ through which the disabled body is understood as a threat to the economic growth of the nation.

Two highlights of the lecture include trainees reflecting on the identities (sex, ethnicity and etc.) of the authors that they draw on for their assignments. Interestingly, the pattern in the responses was that the majority of the authors were Western, White and male. There was keen discussion on this and on why authors whose work is so significant (see Fanon) is not taken into consideration and what implications such a curriculum has. Antonios seeks to build on the work of authors such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012) to deconolonize research as perpetuated by western knowledges/methodologies conceived as the only legitimate ones for the way forward.

The second highlight emerged when the trainees were asked to draw the “ideal human” of today’s society and write three adjectives that allow them to be considered a “citizen”. Most of the depictions were quite similar (able-bodied males) and some of the adjectives that were shared were ‘happy’, ‘productive’, ‘smart’, ‘ambitious’, ‘independent’, which fit well into the desired individual of neoliberalism (Goodley 2014). This task was inspired by Antonios’ engagement with critical posthumanist theory (Braiddoti, 2013), in which the origins and the biopolitical aims of the ‘huMan’ category are identified and then deconstructed. The task triggered discussions about who is included in the ‘human category’ and who is excluded; is there access for people with learning difficulties to such a narrow, restricted category and who is policing this access?

While Antonios expected this lecture to present a challenge (as clinical psychology is permeated by biomedical understandings of (learning) disabilities), it proved to be a very rewarding lecture, a space where both the presenter and the audience listened to and learned from each other. While he was not able to provide prescriptive guidelines regarding their own practice (not the intended outcome), what he managed to convey was that good practice for him is ‘reflexive practice’, always critically reflecting on why we (choose to) think/act/perform in certain ways and not others.

Antonios Ktenidis   

WRDTC/ESRC Funded Doctoral Researcher & Graduate Teaching Assistant in the School of Education, University of Sheffield.

Antonios’ thesis focuses on the stories of young people (11-30 years old) with Restricted Growth of their secondary education in the United Kingdom. In particular, it looks into the colonial biopolitics of growth and the biopedagogies of heightism in the context of schooling as well as engaging with a critical narrative inquiry approach, which deconstructs and goes beyond the Western, individualistic narrativization of experience by conceiving storytelling as a communal, collective praxis.        

Email: aktenidis1@sheffield.ac.uk

Twitter: @AntonisKtenidis