Modernity and the Appearance of Idiocy: Intellectual Disability as a Regime of Truth

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A decisive new approach to our understanding of ‘intellectual disability’ as a social and linguistic category. This book breaks both with essentialist approaches, which ground the understanding of intellectual disability in the putative physical and intellectual materiality of individuals, and with social constructionist approaches, which are caught in an inescapable paradox of being unable to grasp their nebulous target.


“Tellingly, Simpson concludes with a cautiously optimistic ‘refusal’ of the current way of doing things for people with intellectual disability as the only way of doing things, wondering if his archaeological investigations can, in some minimal sense, serve as a demonstration that what is, has not always been and might in the future cease to be.”
-Professor Chris Philo,
University of Glasgow,
School of Geographical and Earth Sciences

“This is a very interesting and readable piece of work that fills important gaps in the current history of ID literature. “ -Professor Tim Stainton,
School of Social Work,
University of British Columbia

“His thought-provoking work scrutinizes the competing agendas of psychiatrists and lay society, and of education and medical psychology. This is a work which will stimulate debate across academic disciplines where there is already deep fascination surrounding mental health and how society felt it should respond to it over a two-hundred year period.
-Dr. Iain C. Hutchison,
University of Stirling

“The primary value of this book for the topic of so-called “intellectual “ disability – one whose history is increasingly written about as well as having a large range of contemporary public reference (panics about autism, continuing scandals about mistreatment of people in institutions, the prevalence of ante-natal testing etc.) – is that he aims to fill this vital gap for the nineteenth-century: in other words, it is a contribution to what one might have thought was the quite important task of "establishing who it is we are talking about.”
-C.F. Goodey,
Author: A History of Intelligence and “Intellectual Disability’: The Shaping of Psychology in Early Modern Europe

Table of Contents

Foreword – Professor Chris Philo
Archaeology of intellectual disability
Intellectual disability and social constructionism
Chapter One-Education and civility
The Legacy of Emile
Chapter Two- The physiological concept of idiocy
Physiological education
Chapter Three – The return of the body
Ireland’s pathological classification
Chapter Four – Intelligence and the psychological gaze
The concept of intelligence
The method
Mental deficiency and education
The politics of intelligence testing
Chapter Five- Development
Idiocy and age
The natural fool
Acquired idiocy
Idiocy and insanity
The closure of developmentalism
Chapter Six – Speaking the truth of idiocy
Towards a discourse on idiocy
Conclusion: Essays in refusal

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