Dan Goodley is a Co-Director of iHuman at The University of Sheffield and a Visiting Professor at Ghent University in Belgium for 2017–2018. His visiting role follows previous collaborations with key scholars in Ghent — including Professor Geert Van Hove and Dr Elisabeth De Schauwer — and brings together critical disability studies communities from Ghent and Sheffield.

Professor Goodley writes below about the importance of international research collaborations as the UK prepares to exit the European Union. Originally published via Medium March 21.

This year I began another collaboration with academics at Ghent University which has two objectives. The first is share strategies around promoting disability studies curricula alongside disciplines historically at odds with the politics of disability (such as special education and psychology).

The second is to develop and submit a number of cross-institutional research bids in the areas of inclusive education, self-advocacy and employment. This includes a specific focus on including academic and community partners from Europe and nations in the Global South.

Working collaboratively extends the international reach of iHuman by tapping into the extensive international partnerships held by Ghent and progresses further iHuman’s commitment to working with non-academic partners. Such relationships are crucial in a time of Brexit not simply because it maintains our relationship with European partners — and therefore the chance to respond to European funding initiatives — but because it ensures that research priorities are widened to include concerns which span international borders.

For example, disability researchers in Ghent and Sheffield are committed to promoting the rights of disabled people (enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). But this commitment goes beyond supranational policy and demands academics to work meaningfully, closely and collaboratively with disabled people’s organisations.

Disability rights is a global phenomenon, felt locally, requiring international responses through research, scholarship and activism. Relationships across the world are therefore essential in order to develop these responses.

Brexit threat

There is no doubt that Brexit poses a threat to international collaborations. However, a truly international perspective reminds us of the need to challenge Anglocentric and Eurocentric priorities and, instead, work with partners outside of these contexts.

Hence, iHuman is working with Ghent and the Universities of Malaysia and Zimbabwe on an ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund application that seeks to promote the education and skills for real employment for young people with intellectual disabilities. Internationalising iHuman opens up opportunities for real collaboration.

And finally iHuman’s work with Ghent University offers the chance to develop critical pedagogies that bring in the potential offerings of disability theory. Whether at undergraduate or postgraduate levels, there is a pressing need for university curricula (across the STEAM subjects) to challenging disabling, pathologising and individualising understandings of disability that tend to dominate.

In contrast, an international collaboration demonstrates the potential of social, cultural, political, historical and artistic theories of disability to develop more politicised and empowering understandings of disability in the contemporary world.