Law, Cultural Heritage and Disability at SLSA 2015. by Abbe Brown

The InVisible Difference team members were excited that “Socio-legal in culture: the culture of socio-legal”, was chosen as the topic of the 2015 conference of the Socio-Legal Studies Association at the University of Warwick. As our work has included observation, ethnographic research, and a discourse analysis of commentary on disabled dance (mainly via social media) we thought SLSA was an exciting opportunity to share it. We also saw this as an excellent opportunity to draw together scholars with whom we had not previously engaged.

We submitted an application to run a panel “Law, Cultural Heritage and Disability: mutual reinforcement or ambivalence”, and were delighted when this was accepted. The deadline for submission of abstracts was Monday 19 January, and other than our own (“Disabled Dance: Grounding the Practice in the Law of ‘Cultural Heritage”), no submissions have been received. We hope that our abstract, which shares work which has been published in the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues will be considered for inclusion in the Art, Culture and Heritage” panel.

Perhaps this experience is no more than the eternal discovery (disappointing as it might be) that not everyone considers the same things to be important. There must also be limits in each research project to ensure that it has the necessary depth. Each project therefore cannot have the intellectual privilege of exploring disability models, disability arts and activism, disability legislation and disability rights, and the social privilege of encountering a rich and diverse mix of experts and leaders.

Some legal researchers do focus on disability, as can be seen in the valuable journal collection where our article was published, edited by Catherine Easton (a member of our Advisory Board). There might be papers considering arts and disability in the “Indigenous Rights and Minority Rights” panel, and we look forward to exploring this. But is our experience also indicative of the fact that for most researchers, disability is not something on which they focus. If they are not experts in disability law, they need not consider it. Disability is marginal. And does this reflect and drive positions taken throughout society?

An objective of InVisible Difference is to challenge this, by developing arguments for disabled dance to become part of cultural heritage. Or put more widely, to remove barriers between mainstream and margin, able and disabled. We look forward to discussing this question with colleagues, old and new, at SLSA.
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