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Contextualising Disability and Immigration in Britain


Contextualising disability in modern Britain is a problematic task. The principal challenge of any contextualisation is perhaps the question of whose contextualization is the most apt one. Answering this question and the position taken as a result is also arguably a critical tension within the issue of disability. This then hinges upon whether we contextualize disability from a point of view centred on society generally in modern Britain or whether we contextualize it from the viewpoint of those living with disabilities in modern Britain, (Barnes, 2006). This then highlights the issue as to whether disability is problematic for British society itself or whether it is in actuality British society is disabling itself for those it counts as living within disabilities. We can also contextualize disability in modern Britain in the very sense of its modernity by reflecting on the development of care, policy and legislation for disability, seeing it in a progressive light as a gradual deepening of respect and civil society values towards the disabled in Britain. Yet has the success of increased legislation towards the disabled in society gone any way towards combating the problems raised and highlighted by the disability rights movement for example.

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Perhaps in some ways this question can be answered positively in that legally many forms of discrimination against those living with disabilities has been placed on an equal footing with other kinds of discrimination such as that to do with race and racism. But has a legal countering of discrimination been enough to counter what many might count as socially embedded negative values and attitudes towards the disabled in modern Britain. In many instances activists within the disabled rights movement have argued that this has not occurred. This contextualisation returns us then to the issue noted above in that while legal and political measures have been taken to protect and enable disabled persons to live more active and fuller lives in particular settings socially in terms of British society questions can be asked as to how successful these attitudes have been diffused. As an illustration of this in examining the statistics of those who are disabled and working as opposed to those who are disabled and living on benefits highlights in many ways the inability of disabled persons to secure employment even where they are legally entitled to be considered on the same basis as those who are not disabled, (Kemp, 2006).

Contextualising disability then is an interesting task as it centres as such on definitions, attitudes and reactions to the incidence of disability and how those with disability are treated by and perceived by British society in a wider and more general sense. Disability then when we contextualize it in this manner becomes a matter of respective perspectives on the issues that are play within the area of disability. For those then within the disability rights movement for example it is British society itself which is disabling in terms of restricting those living with disability from leading full and active lives. In terms of societal responses then the legal and political measures which have been pursued can be seen as responses to these criticisms. Yet the effectiveness of these can continually be questioned in terms of their impact. Similarly an often occluded aspect of disability in modern British society is the emphasis legally on physical as opposed to mental disabilities. A claim that can also be levelled at the disability rights movement itself at times. This can be seen in the fact that much of the legislation has focused on the concerns of those living with physical disabilities to the detriment of those living with mental disabilities, (Borsay, 2005). What this points towards in terms of a contextualization of disability in modern Britain is a failure of particular perspectives to be heard at all in the face of certain perspectives seeing a sustained debate on which version is the more correct one to be used in examining the issue of disability.


A contextualization of immigration in modern Britain is in many critical ways a contextualization of modern Britain itself. This can be seen in a number of key ways, such as for example the historical impacts of immigration on the makeup and composition of modern Britain. It can also be located in some of the more current socially problematic issues such as the role of Britain in the European Union, terrorism and the decline of the primacy of the welfare state. These are however broad claims and as such then how does a contextualization of immigration become relevant to the themes outlined above? Perhaps the clearest way a contextualisation of immigration points to these themes is by the manner in which immigration is discursively as an issue by society. As such then it can be argued that the discourse of immigration in Foucauldian terms points towards a complexity of issues that reflects, intersects and interacts with a set of much broader discourses within British society. Not only this but importantly but in terms of this wider social discourse on immigration what is not perceived or what is not discussed has immediate relevance also for the themes mentioned above, (Block, 2006).

As such immigration can be seen as a contested issue and its contextualization as such offers insights into critical debates within modern Britain. An example of this can be seen in the recent debates over the economic benefits of immigration which are made against the backdrop of the expansion of the EU. Here there has been a shift from the unrestricted access of inhabitants of the first accession countries such as Poland to living and working in Britain to one of restrictions for newer accession countries such as Romania. Similarly debates over multiculturalism in the wake of recent terrorist acts have seen immigration being contested in the sense of how well do newer immigrants, and in particular Muslim immigrants integrate into British society. Likewise a final aspect of the contested nature of immigration is their partaking of the use of various public services in Britain. Arguments are made that immigration causes strains on public services such as the NHS, housing, education and other aspects of the welfare state, (Dustmann, 2005). Each of these issues are importantly social and political discourses themselves also. A contextualisation of immigration then needs to consider whether immigration is a feature of these discourses or whether they are a feature of immigration itself.

Arguably the most suitable approach is to see a contextualisation of immigration as a mix between both of the extremes outlined above to see it as a contested discourse. Dissecting these contestations of immigration then is arguably the principal method to contextualizing immigration in modern Britain. It is an issue as such that is a mirror and a lens reflecting and providing insights into what are major transformational debates in modern Britain. Indeed the greater immigration is perceived or is in actuality occurring then the greater these debates are played out in the media, political circles and within national and local settings, (Cohen, 2001). There is a need then to situate immigration discursively within a framework which recognizes the multiplicity of discourses which are at play or are extolled in relation to the issue of immigration. It is a discourse containing many images and symbols about particular aspects of modern British society which are seen as problematic. Contextualising immigration then as a result necessitates a contextualisation of many disparate aspects of British society.


Barnes, C. (2006) Independent Futures: Creating User-Led Disability Services in a Disabling Society, Bristol, Policy

Block, D. (2006) Multilingual Identities in a Global City: London Stories, Basingstoke, Macmillan

Borsay, A. (2005) Disability and Social Policy in Britain since 1750: A History of Exclusion, Basingstoke, Macmillan

Cohen, S. (2001) Immigration Controls, The Family and the Welfare State, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Dustmann, C. (2005) Immigration, Jobs and Wages: Theory, Evidence and Opinion, London, Center for Economic Policy Research

Kemp, P. A. (2006) Sick Societies? , Geneva, International Social Security Association

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