Methodological Issues in Comparing the Disability Rights Movement Cross-Culturally

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: Booth 51
Oral Presentation
Sharon BARNARTT , Sociology, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC
Many scholars have compared disability movements in two or a few countries, but few have attempted global comparisons, in part because of the methodological complexities involved. But increasing globalization and increasingly widespread  mobilization around disability issues suggest the need to examine such issues.

This paper is drawn from analysis of over 2600 cases of disability protest from around the world. If social movement activities are collective, contentious, and politically non-normative, methodological issues include cross-cultural differences in all of these.   What disabilities are involved?  What activities are considered to be non-normative?  What are the cultural and political meanings, including the threat level posed and the degree of acceptance, of the tactics used?   Even defining the Disability Rights Movement raises definitional differences in what constitutes disability (AIDS?  Obesity?)  and what word can be used to describe it (disability, handicap, impairment, challenge?).  Sometimes a specific disability label, such as developmental disability, in one society may refer to a different physiological condition than in another.  Defining ‘rights’ is also problematic:  Issues which are framed as ‘rights-related’ in one context may be framed in others as being  ‘services-related.’   Some types of impairments are more stigmatized in one society than another, which affects mobilization and effectiveness of protestors, as well as, possibly, by the media.  Issues related to the likelihood that a protest will be noted at all,  as well as the availability and translation of media reports, are also important.  Finally, variable coding is often ethnocentric.  Unless each variable were coded based upon its own cultural context, biases will occur.  However, doing this would add extensively to the time and other resources needed for the research.  Thus this paper raises questions about if, and under what circumstances, cross-cultural social movement research would be possible.