Disability and society (Master’s level course)

Course offered as part of Sciences Po’s Master-level common core curriculum since 2017.

General description and Learning objectives

The social status of persons with disabilities has undergone fundamental changes in the past century. From the compensation of injured war veterans to de-institutionalization and more recently antidiscrimination, collective mobilizations and public policies have promoted, reflected and accompanied these social transformations. The main aim of this interdisciplinary course is to help students make sense of this fundamental social change, by means of an introduction to the key concepts and empirical results of disability studies (social model, disability policy and politics, access to education, employment …). Based on inputs from different disciplines (sociology, political science, history, law, ethics), we reflect on the interplay between policy, politics and the production of knowledge in the promotion of a more inclusive society.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

– Understand and explain the differences between the medical, social and relational/interactive models of disability;

– Identify disabling barriers in education, employment, access to the built environment;

– Know the main features of disability policies and the disability movement in the Western world;

– Critically analyze representations of disability in the mass media;

– Combine the inputs of different disciplines (sociology, political science, history, law, ethics) on the topic of disability;

– Reflect critically on the interplay between policy, politics and the production of knowledge.


(Click on title to access section slides)

1.     Introduction

2.     The disability movement

3.     The social model and its critiques

4.     From disability to disabilities

5.     Disability policies at the crossroads

6.     Global disability rights

7.     Education

8.     Employment

9.     Care

10.  Cultural representations

11.  Undoing stigma

12.  Conclusion

Assessment format and assignment details

General presentation of teaching style and assessment format
The teaching format for this course is highly participative and promotes active learning. The time spent in class is expected to be a very active time, where the students do most of the learning, along with prior readings and group work. Group discussions will be regularly organized in class to favor the involvement of students.

Assessment is based on individual and group assignments throughout the semester (more details will be provided below on each assignment):

–        Individual reading assignments: In the first weeks of the course, students will have to submit individually via Moodle short answers to 5 simple questions on two theoretical texts. The deadlines for these assignments are September, 15th for questions on text 1 (Oliver) and September, 29th for questions on text 2 (Heyer). These 2 individual assignments represent 30% of the final grade.

–        Group assignments: As of September, 26th, students will also contribute more formally to the production, presentation and discussion of course material by means of case study group presentations and online summaries. The presentations and summaries are based on preassigned texts which have been randomly allocated to groups of 3 students. Each group will have to prepare one presentation or one online summary, based on this random allocation. This group assignment represents 30% of the final grade. Each time class meets, another (larger) group of students will have the primary responsibility for the discussion of the presentations. This group assignment represents 10% of the final grade.

–        Individual takeway note: At the end of this course, students will be asked to individually submit a “Disability and society takeaway note”, which sums up what they wish to remember from this course. The deadline for this individual assignment is December 9th. This individual assignment represents 30% of the final grade.

Summary of assessment:

Individual assignments (60% of final grade):

  • Reading assignments 30%
  • “Takeaway from Disability & Society” note: 30%

Group assignments (40% of final grade):

  • In-class presentation OR online summary: 30%
  • In-class discussion of another presentation: 10%

Main references

Albrecht, Gary, Katherine Seelman, and Michael Bury, eds. 2001. Handbook of Disability Studies. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Barnes, Colin, Mike Oliver, and Len Barton, eds. 2002. Disability Studies Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Barnes, Colin, and Geof Mercer. 2010. Exploring Disability. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Priestley, M. (2003). Disability: a life course approach. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Shakespeare, Tom. 2013. Disability Rights and Wrongs Revisited. London: Routledge.

Swain, John, Sally French, Colin Barnes, and Carol Thomas, eds. 2013. Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. London: Sage.

Watson, Nick, Alan Roulstone, and Carol Thomas, eds. 2012. Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies. New York: Routledge.

Commented reading assignments