Chapter 3

The Development of the Framework of Investigation




It was first in animals and children, but later also in adults, that I observed the immensely powerful need for regularity - the need which makes them seek for regularities; which makes them sometimes experience regularities even where there are none… [The] regularities we try to impose are psychologically a priori, but there is not the slightest reason to assume that they are a priori valid, as Kant thought.

Popper (1979: p.23-24)


It is precisely the alteration of nature by men, not nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis for human thought.

Engels (1940: p.40)




Aims and objectives of this chapter

            This chapter has the following aims:

  1. To introduce the methodological model used to design the data collection methods for this study
  2. To introduce the philosophy of this study
  3. To introduce the reader to the main terms and the vocabulary I use in this study


The objectives of this chapter are to inform the reader of the framework and tools of investigation that will be used to analyse the data produced by the fieldwork, and to describe a model of analysis that can be replicated and evaluated in future studies of disability and education.


It will achieve these aims by pursuing the following chronological structure to describe how I designed this framework:

    • Firstly, it begins with a definition and review of the problem that led to the design of this study.
    • Secondly, it describes my deeper analysis of the methodologies that I argue were responsible for these problems.
    • Thirdly, it discusses the philosophical influences that were used to design the new model.
    • Fourthly, it introduces the framework or tools used by this model of analysis, which incorporates these influences, and is devised to design the data collection methods used in the following two chapters and finally to analyse the data in following sections.


Definitions and concepts used in this thesis

            The methodological model described in this chapter was designed specifically for this study and, similar to the notions described in the quotes above, focuses on an analysis of the historical contexts of previous studies, models of art education and its effect on students who are blind. As a form of short hand, I refer to this model in the text as the Epistemological Model of the Study of Disability (Hayhoe, 2002), which is further shortened to the Epistemological Model of Disability.


The Epistemological Model of Disability incorporates a framework, a methodological tool used as a blueprint for the collection and analysis of data, which is designed to be sufficiently robust that it will allow it to be tested and, in future, replicated. This chapter begins by defining the influences I have chosen for its design. Furthermore, behind this framework are two simple notions, which underline the process and implementation of the following chapters:

  1. The first notion is that our attitudes towards blindness as a disability have evolved in part through “arbitrary” social and cultural factors throughout history. These twists and turns are often the result of power struggles, but they are rarely directly related to gaining power over disabled people for its own sake. Instead they are often the result of power struggles in separate areas of society. This notion also includes the argument that disability changes in different environmental, cultural and historical contexts.


  1. The second notion is that these twists and turns have real human effects, both socially and emotionally. Therefore, what have previously been described as disadvantages and oppression in disability theory (Barnes & Mercer, 2003) is often the “side effect” of a cultural evolution. This problem is made worse by humans’ need to classify and regularise all people according to distinct, useful traits. This, it is argued, furthers the cause of greater cultural needs or those of small but powerful groups. For instance it is argued that governments classify people who are disabled to further their own political aims as well as their nations’ (Oliver, 1989).


This chapter now continues by discussing what are perceived to be the problems with traditional models previously used to analyse the cognition and behaviour of those who are blind, the analytical frameworks with which they have examined these notions and the hypotheses they inspired.


The contradiction in traditional frameworks of analysing social and natural phenomena


Before beginning the description of these traditional frameworks, I will outline the notions that inspired the hypotheses and research questions. Their propositions should now be seen within the context of the following criticisms, as they stand against traditional positivist frameworks and scientific assumptions.

·        Firstly, I noted that the social behaviour of students I had previously studied was formed in part from the attitudes they had faced from the institutions they had previously attended, not from inherent behaviour or behaviour derived directly from their blindness. Furthermore, these circumstances were often only partially related to the institutions in which education was conducted.

·        Secondly, as Popper and Engels argue in the quotations at the top of this chapter, it appears that people do not like living in confusion and “chaos”, but instead try to regularise disparate patterns in the physical world. Similarly, I have argued that policy makers attribute simple social explanations to infinitely complex historical and cultural concepts. They also create these simple concepts according to their material usefulness.


This notion is similar to the way scientists create taxonomies of natural phenomena, and as designers regulate space and patterns. Ernst Gombrich (1992) makes a similar point in The Sense of Order. Here he takes up his argument on the point of the psychological need to perceptually order our environment in particular. His arguments therefore refer to the regulation of cultural symbols and aesthetics, such as the patterns of the built environment and decorative arts.


In this chapter, I outline the arguments of Gombrich, Popper and Engels in order to argue for the need for a theory of human social regularity. It must be understood, however, that there is disagreement amongst these authors about the source of this regularity. Engels (1940) appears to believe that the classification of nature is based in human, cultural activity, and not embedded in nature.


Popper (1979) appears to disagree, arguing instead that a sense of order evolves in humans, and thus it is a distinguishing feature of our consciousness. However, both agree in the fundamental nature of human societies to create artificial classifications, based on a fundamental need to order that which cannot be understood.


This need to order human societies seems to be particularly noticeable in what Albrecht & Levy (1981) describe as the medical model of disability. Scientific analysis appears to prefer simple classified answers, as its aim is mostly to create single, short objective answers interpretable through simple language, such as formulae or dialects which reduce the amount of description of phenomena.


Consequently, western human systems of classification seem to have left medically defined conditions particularly vulnerable to over-simplified hypothecation. Furthermore, it appears that western human societies classify people who have a range of types and strengths of visual impairments, under the single category of “blindness” in scientific and philosophical studies, such as those outlined in the previous chapter, rather than through individual needs, as Warren (1994) proposed.


Societies also appear to classify what blind people – often explained as a single phrase - can and can’t do (French, 1994). This is often classified according to the traits of a few extreme cases, such as many of those described in the scientific and philosophical studies discussed in the previous chapter (Hayhoe, 2006).


There are two further factors present in this hypothesis. The first is a view of ability as accumulation. Oliver (1989) suggests that in the west human behaviour is judged according to social, materialistic values more than by individual, libertarian values.


For instance, he argues that in Western cultures people are perceived to be either a liability or an asset to a society, dependent on their ability to work. In this way, disability is viewed as a negative function of material or intellectual accumulation. It does not matter whether this accumulation is derived from theocratic, feudal, socialist, psychological or capitalistic activity, or indeed discourse or acquisition, disability is seen as inhibiting accumulation.


A further provision is that social classifications and beliefs about disability change over time. What is considered economically or materially useless in British twenty first century society was considered different in different eras and by different societies, such as in 18th Century French feudal society. What are felt to be the inadequacies of traditional scientific and philosophical models in explaining these factors in studies of people with disabilities are now discussed below.


The problems discovered with psychological and social psychological approaches to social learning


I began the design of this model after questioning my previous evaluation of Walter Doyle’s framework (Hayhoe, 2000). In this framework, his influences were behavioural and cognitive learning theories, which I felt restricted themselves to the view that psychology was an extension of the biological sciences, as they concentrate on animal learning theory. Such studies, therefore, restrict their analysis of learning behaviour to a relatively short period of history, which can only be replicated in the laboratory.


For instance, in a work that is relevant to this thesis, Academic Work, a paper that sets out his theory of ambiguity and risk, Doyle (1983) attempts to look at the approaches of students in tightly defined classroom tasks. He initially argues that his approach differs from traditional cognitive advances as he does not look at components of tasks, only tasks themselves. However, radical as it is, I would argue that Doyle’s argument still does not move beyond this tight framework of a short period of history. I would also argue that he fails to account for structured definitions, which take into account cultural influences. This chapter now pursues this notion below.


Behavioural studies of learning behaviour

            It appears that Doyle’s argument that learning is free from a culture outside of the classroom is arguably rooted in the rhetoric of behaviourists. They tend to emphasise the place of the mind’s behavioural compounds – a chemical analogy meant to define the lowest common denominator of learning - on learning performance. For example, Edward Thorndike (1921)  argued that people were an accumulation of simple experiences, gathering data rather like, in a more modern analogy, the way a computer is programmed. Metaphorically, it can be argued that it was as if his suggestion advocated slicing a brain and counting the rings of learning development, like counting the rings of a tree’s growth:


Similarly, it appears that Miller’s (1966) later theories on cognition appear to continue a belief that was sanitised of social and historical learning contexts. His notion of paired-associates learning, for instance, draws analogies with the physical sciences by describing units of behaviour at an “atomic level”. This analogy was the derivation of a more sophisticated connection system, in which behaviour was created through related links, and was heavily influenced by theories of pedagogy.


Contemporary cognitive studies

            In more contemporary research McShane (1991) argues that the theoretical assumptions of cognitive studies provide little change from the simplicity of behavioural models. In particular, he questions the notion that human development can be expressed as mechanical memory systems. The effects though (which he describes as his “what”) are not accompanied by a time scale (“when”) or place (“where”). Therefore, it could be argued that he also broadly ignores a historical context, only asking “how”.


McShane continues his point, stating that this narrow focus on human thought makes cognitive science appear to promote an assumption that there are homogenous, concrete learning pathways, whereas evidence suggests that these pathways are more subjective. This notion of learning, he continues, leads to an even more mechanical description of individual development. McShane appears to further argue that it makes cognitive science an effective vehicle for developing systems of artificial intelligence, but it restricts our understanding of complex human development merely to rats running through mazes, with no quarter given to truly creative or risk-driven thought.


Social psychological studies

            Social psychological models of analysis have attempted to address the “how” problems McShane mentions. However, it is arguable that these models only complete half this task. The approach of Vygotsky, for instance, has the advantage in this study of being derived from research on students with disabilities. His most notable example is that of language development amongst students who are deaf (Vygotsky, 1994b), in which he treats them as a separate educational and cultural group.


Arguably where Vygotsky’s (1994c) hypothesis shows its strongest applicability to those on which this study is based is his belief in the duality of the individual – which he termed “natural” – and cultural aspects of learning. Derived from what he describes as positivist principles, Vygotsky’s argument seems to be that psychology is formed both from individual, genetic influences and external culture. Furthermore, culture, he argued, was inculcated into an individual’s make-up through their internalisation of language.


Vygotsky (1978) also argued that the history of culture also plays a part in its application. He maintains that such historical development was formed through the evolution of sign systems and, evoking anthropological theory, he argues that these sign systems, such as social rituals and icons, are subsequently turned inwards. The personalities they form thus transform into individual learning strategies:

The internalisation of socially rooted and historically developed activities is the distinguishing feature of human psychology, the basis of the qualitative leap from animal to human psychology.

Vygotsky (1978: p.85)


Whilst this study’s resulting framework largely encompasses the social psychological arguments of the duality of cultural and individual elements in learning behaviour, there were two main reasons why this model was still felt to be inappropriate and lacking in sufficient depth. The first reason is Vygotsky’s analysis of culture. Whereas the hypotheses presented in this thesis place a deep emphasis on the influence of long periods of history on culture several generations long, social psychological models only account for culture as it exists within relatively short periods of history, a single generation at most (Sakarov, 1994).


Although he appears to discuss the history of culture, the emphasis of these methods, it could be argued, do not account for it. Furthermore, Vygotsky’s methods themselves espoused experimental techniques (Vygotsky, 1978), which it seems are at odds with an approach that takes history and broader cultural aspects into account, as they cannot be controlled or simulated accurately in laboratory settings.


My second reason for rejecting the social psychological model is its apparent academic political difficulties. Parker (1989) in particular argues that these problems stem from the manner in which contemporary social psychology was developed as a discipline to unite sociology and psychology, yet actually achieved the opposite.


Furthermore, Parker argues that its initially ad hoc formulation led to imbalances in academic power and self interest in individual departments. It was, he continues, a problem of mismatching incompatible political elements of psychology, sociology and anthropology, caused by the political unwillingness of academics to take on the ideas of the social factors and contexts of social learning theories and vice versa. This is not to say that this study rejected the model of social psychology because it is intrinsically incorrect. However, as Parker argues, its application in the current academic system appears to be incompatible.


Having rejected these analyses of the study of disability, I examined what I felt was a more appropriate analysis of epistemological frameworks of studying the construction of scientific notions of blindness. This approached the problem from a similar angle as Berger & Luckman’s (1962) social constructionist model, in an examination of the effect of the classification of social groups on cognition and culture.


This model is not only meant to show that attitudes shaped the way students are taught and behave, but also to present a root and branch criticism of the way in which an understanding of knowledge has been created for these students. This includes an analysis of the didactics of the subject of art and blindness, the way that disability itself is created and the influences that it has on students’ behaviour. It is this discussion of the construction of knowledge (epistemological) “frameworks” that this study now turns to.


The choice of an epistemological model and its philosophical influences


Whilst investigating the epistemology of the scientific analysis of blindness, I was particularly influenced by the epistemological debate on the social, historical and cultural nature of scientific knowledge instigated in the latter fifty years of the twentieth century. It is in his analysis of epistemological and theocratic development in particular that Karl Popper argues that myths have played a role in the evolution of academic theory.


Popper (1999) initially argued this point in The Open Society and Its Enemies, in a criticism of what he felt was tacit understanding in traditional scientific and social scientific theories that there are rules to history. These rules, he felt, were thought to be “there to be discovered,” and informed efficient social interactions. In Western thought, he continued, this notion was illustrated in an early form through the mythology of the Old Testament, which argued that God chose a superior, exalted culture under his protection.


Furthermore, this notion, Popper argued, gave rise in Western culture to a notion of a form of intellectual high priest, who can provide answers. His motivation for this line of argument, he continued, is derived from his experiences in Vienna during the 1930s. At this time, both National Socialists and Marxists argued its policies were based on a positivist, social scientific rational, each believing they had a “supernatural” right to power. This latter group’s rational for not contesting the power of the National Socialist philosophy, was that it was the step before the rise of the proletariat. This, it was argued, was historically the time before the rise of international socialism.


Although Popper argued that Marx was against Plato’s original counter-democratic Utopianism – although he appeared to be for its notion of a pure aestheticism - Popper felt he and those arguing for his philosophy were guilty of an extreme form of social engineering. Popper continued that this philosophy appeared to be in favour of perhaps the most extreme form of historicism, in which historical rules were self-fulfilling. As a result, it was not necessary even to discover the rules of society, as they would demonstrate themselves of their own accord.


Most notably, however, in Conjectures and Refutations Popper (1998) argued that myth making is amongst the most fundamental principles in the development of scientific theories. This appeared to be important in this study, as I was criticising the evolution of a system of teaching based on a social-medical assumption about people who are blind.


In this way, Popper feels that contemporary, scientific and social scientific theories can be thought of as comparable to the miraculous legends in Christianity or stories of ancient Greek mythology. It could be suggested that in terms of this study these have subsequently affected psychology’s study of blindness, art and aesthetic perception, and inform the moral quality with which society imbibes blindness.


Theories, Popper continues, are a way in which what is known in the world can be interpreted through frameworks of culturally based analogy. Through such theories, he argues, commonalties of greater truth systems have been interpreted. Theory, and by extension the medical model of disability, therefore, seem to be reduced to the level of stories that make sense of a situation in a place and time. This is defined by Popper as the experimentally or empirically experienced age, devised in order to make sense of a phenomena or situation.


This chapter now continues by examining the epistemological notion of the existence of objective knowledge.


The notion of scientific knowledge as inherently objective

            In his later work, Objective Knowledge, Popper (1979) argues against the pre-supposition of traditional positivistic theories, which believe that knowledge and truth exist in an external, natural world waiting to be discovered. These traditional theories, he proposes, argue that this form of knowledge is obtained directly through the senses like a collection of physical units of thought waiting to be discovered by intelligent people. Popper calls this the “bucket theory” of knowledge.


Popper’s analysis of the use of common sense in science uses a framework he calls the “three world” theory. Popper formed this framework to analyse those studies he felt represented the “bucket theory” of knowledge. This theory uses the analogies of worlds or universes of knowledge. Importantly, however, Popper also appears to recognise the greater role of formal language in the possession of knowledge.


In this way, Popper seems to judge that the levels of knowledge abstraction from the first world, the world of “real” functioning, are where “chaotic”, unfathomable phenomena occur. Alternatively, Popper sees the second world as consciousness and its products. This is the perception of the first world by human beings and other animals, and the “naturalistic” interpretation of what is going on all around us as individuals. In terms of what we have discussed already, this is simply our perceptual patterns and their impression on our minds.


It is also through our assumptions and commonsense that we learn through discourse. This second world, therefore, is also affected by the third world. The third world of objective knowledge is the accumulation of knowledge by cultures, societies, institutions and so forth. This knowledge is abstracted not only by its distance from the first world of lived reality, but also abstracted by forces of history, language and the mythology of existing theories.


This chapter now continues by discussing the development of the social nature of epistemological development.


The model of scientific paradigms and development

            Whilst designing the Epistemological Model of Disability for this study, however, I found that Popper’s arguments on the scientific, historical construction of attitudes towards disability, although powerful and relevant, had to be tempered by some of the criticisms of his thesis. In particular, although principally agreeing with his notion of the social and historical constructionist nature of scientific knowledge in The Structure of Scientific Revolution, Thomas Kuhn (1996) argues that Popper’s emphasis on the pure “historical” nature of knowledge construction is too broad.


Instead Kuhn suggests that science approaches more feasible truthes through a series of revolutions of theory, occurring after the accumulation of large bodies of counter-evidence over a period of time, when counter-evidence becomes so copious that the previous paradigm is indefensible. It is at this point, Kuhn appears to argue, that a new scientific revolution occurs and progresses towards a greater truth. Truth, he feels, is therefore relative not absolutely negative or positive.


Furthermore, Kuhn feels that this analysis of paradigms and scientific revolutions can be taken beyond a simple analysis of theorisation. In his graduate study papers, for instance, he goes on to show the analogous approach taken towards the study of the history of ideas. Kuhn’s arguments appear to be similar to Michel Foucault’s criticism of our understanding of philosophical development and definitions of “intellectual” and “emotional”[1] disabilities in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1989) and Madness and Civilisation (1989). Foucault’s theories appear to focus on the distribution of active forms of power in science and politics. In terms of the design of this model, though, it was his notion of the pre-eminence of the role of power over chaotic factors that became influential.


However, it appeared that when considering the data, no matter how influential Foucault’s theories appeared to be in modelling a framework of studying disability, it was Kuhn’s arguments that were more relevant to the model presented in this study for one important reason: they were based more on the self-preservation of conventional scientific paradigms, such as those presented in this study.


In the realm of this field of study, Kuhn argues that there can be no all-encompassing theory that fits all scenarios and is embedded in the history of thought, as Foucault’s arguments appear to suggest. What exists instead is an interpretation of incidences, conceived through an accumulation of evidence, which are more culturally and socially constructed, and differ markedly in different historical periods. Therefore it was only Foucault’s notion that the scientific epistemology of disability could be defined historically through discourse that eventually influenced my design.


This chapter now continues by discussing other compatible sociological and anthropological theories that have influenced this Epistemological Model of Disability.


Further influences: anthropological and sociological notions of mythological themes


Influential anthropological theories on the social construction of knowledge

Other social theories influenced the construction of this model’s design as a social/cultural framework as well as a purely applied philosophical one. The first was the notion of mythological themes in the creation of social knowledge, such as scientific theory.


On this premise, I was particularly influenced by the design of the science of mythology and cultural symbolism discussed by Claude Levi-Strauss (1994, 2001) in several essays. In particular, he argued for a “scientific” theory of myth making and its role in a broader cultural development of attitudes towards disability. In his studies, Levi-Strauss sees a “science” of mythology as an effective framework by which the evolution and progress of a culture can be judged both by the “scientist” and the layman.


Unlike traditional Cartesian science, however, Levi-Strauss appears to urge a looser interpretation of scientific analysis. Therefore, his interpretation is arguably similar to the development of symbols by linguists and philosophers of language such as Roland Barthes (2000). He emphasises that myths, like symbols, cannot be picked apart, or allow their classifiable elements to be scrutinised individually against empirical conditions.


Instead Levi-Strauss appears to believe that the elements of myths need to be traced more sympathetically as whole, changeable, almost living phenomena. In this way, he suggests, myths, such as the beliefs investigated in this thesis on the nature of aesthetic appreciation by people who are blind, cannot be seen as using the same framework as other social phenomena. They would seem to have their own logic and conscious reasoning instead. It is in this way that my model regarded the analysis of attitudes towards blindness as myths.


This chapter continues with an analysis of the role of language analysis in the construction of the Epistemological Model of Disability.


Further influences: The social role of language and discourse in scientific knowledge construction

As well as its notions on the themes of mythology in the social creation of scientific knowledge, it was decided that there should be a place in this model, aside from Foucault’s criticism of the discourse of definitions of disability, for frameworks addressing the place of language and discourse in creating scientific paradigms of knowledge.


Here my model was influenced by the framework of language and knowledge development presented by Julian Jaynes (1990) in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Like Levi-Strauss, Jaynes argued that the social expansion of language is linked to the development of mythology and attitudes to social classifications (such as disability). This, he continued, allowed the development of scientific, economic, political and other social systems through cultural means. Furthermore, Jaynes felt that this social expansion also allowed the biological evolution of consciousness.


Arguably, Jaynes’ arguments bare a similarity to another language framework presented in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1953) Philosophical Investigations, which also influenced the design of my model. In this work, Wittgenstein investigated the cultural manipulation of language groups and forms, arguing that even languages that are assumed to be logically “pure”, such as mathematics, and their use in the development of scientific classifications, are developed socially and have illogical elements to them.


Again, appearing to take much from the existential philosophies of subjective perception, he argued that language and the knowledge it represents - in my model’s case the construction of attitudes to blindness - can only be interpreted subjectively, as this is how it is formed; i.e. language as a medium of knowledge is also a possessor and a changer of knowledge. Working from this premise, Wittgenstein argued that the evolution of individual languages is analogous to the growth of a city.


Words, Wittgenstein argued, were like a disparate collection of buildings, until they developed a unified identity through culture. Therefore, it appeared that Wittgenstein saw the core of the city - the iconic development - as similar to the language root, the driving force of the peripheral suburbs and phrases. From this city centre, smaller suburbs evolved. Similarly, language and their accompanying corpi of knowledge and attitudes eventually created their own dialects and jargon, much like the area variations in large cities.


Moreover, in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Wittgenstein[2] (1974) analysed what he felt was interpretable mathematical discourse. In this analysis he proposed that the logical foundations of such scientific languages are thought by human societies to be “natural”. As a result, he continued, the notion that classification of groups of people, things and truths through language – in the case of our model, it can again be seen as the attitudes shown to people who are blind – were by extension “felt” to be natural, rather than merely the “functions” of language.


For instance, in describing the irregularity of the use of certain combinations of mathematical notation, Wittgenstein noted an anomaly to exemplify the combination of the uses of the negative symbol and how it changed the character that preceded it. In this situation, he argued, two symbolic notations of p can be seen as meaning different things although they are logically the same. This, he suggested, demonstrated that the knowledge it represented was interpretable by its user and its context.

But in fact all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing.

Truth functions are not material [natural] functions.

Wittgenstein (1974: p. 44)


This chapter now re-visits earlier theories which influenced the Epistemological Model of Disability as sociological theories of knowledge construction.


Further influences: Common sense as a social knowledge system

            Another theme in Popper’s (1979) Objective Knowledge which became influential in the design of my model was the notion of commonsense, which I felt could be applied to attitudes about blindness and art as a form of social construction. This focus became of importance because it appeared that the notion “people who are blind are incapable in art” reoccurred frequently in the descriptions of experiences in my original study (Hayhoe, 1995, 1995b, 2000) - it appeared therefore that it was not only many of the early scientists discussed in the previous chapter that believed solely in this form of categorisation, it was also teachers and the policies that informed their practice.


As a result, I became influenced by the analysis of what is assumed to be common sense and religious beliefs as a social knowledge system, in the studies discussed in Local Knowledge by Clifford Geertz (1983). In this study, Geertz applies Wittgenstein's analogy of language development to cultural knowledge and logic. In doing so, he investigates the evolution of what are assumed to be social facts based on scientific doctrine.


Geertz also analyses how they were constructed around a need to apply workable classification systems to inexplicable phenomena, often by appearing to reach out to create virtual myths and beliefs, or metaphysical stories. As a result, he argues: Men (sic.) plug the dykes of their most needed beliefs with whatever mud they can find. Geertz (1983: p.80)


In an illustration of such miss-assumed commonsense, such as those gathered in this study about blindness, Geertz analyses the assumption that there are two definite types of gender. This is a social concept in his analysis, although it is analogous to blindness as it has a biological root. In the structure of these assumptions, even though there are ambiguities in gender and sexual roles, such as homosexuality, transvestitism and people who have sex changes, Geertz argued that there is little dispute that there are two biological sexes. It is seen as a fact.


However, hermaphrodites challenge our cultures’ social assumptions and present powerful anomalies to these commonsense cultural and social beliefs. In his analysis, Geertz looks particularly at how three different cultures react to hermaphrodite children when they are born. Western culture, for example, sees hermaphrodites as people with an illness. Their presence presents many practical problems to this society's everyday life. They have dilemmas, such as which toilet can they use, whether or not they can get married, and so forth.


In this way, like the plugging of the dyke with whatever mud they find, Geertz appears to argue that societies force their inhabitants into workable categories - such as blindness - through cultural engines - such as education - in order to fit “workable” and practical needs. Furthermore, Geertz reasons that these social anomalies are applied through rules and policies, and through platforms of beliefs - such as educational laws, teachers’ practices and curricula that are separate for people who are blind - including institutions that encourage ideologies or moral codes of ethics. These seem to allow for the development and planning of cultural “blueprints”.


In the following segment, these disparate influences are formed into a single Epistemological Model of Disability.


The development of a unified core philosophy: Political Relativism


A model of analysis that investigates paradigms of commonsense attitudes

The result of a selective integration of all of these philosophies is a notion of paradigmatic social construction of attitudes and discourse informing the Epistemological Model of Disability; i.e. non-traditional analyses of behaviour constructed from attitudes surrounding the individual through his or her social and cultural history.


In this thesis I refer to this notion as political relativism, as it regards historical scientific influences as relative to an era, and changeable in different periods – for instance what is considered conservative in one era is considered radical in another – and, as Popper suggests, reliant more on self determination than historical rules.


Furthermore, from an appraisal of my own previous research, in Europe and North America at least I have found that political ideology on blindness in education could be said to be based on a form of symbolic, mythological aestheticism, based on an ideology of unattainable perfection. This, it can be argued, derives from the worship of beauty to the cost of ugliness, from the worship of ability to the cost of disability, from the worship of cultural insularity to the cost of a collective human understanding.


This framework of analysis is particularly useful, I would argue, in the study of art and disability for these reasons. In particular, it appears the belief that the inability of people who are blind to create art occupies an extreme position as one that is invulnerable for its truthfulness. In such views, it stands to reason that people who are “blind” cannot achieve visual beauty in their creations, nor, as was argued by psychologists such as von Senden and Revesz (Revesz, 1950), or contemporary philosophers such as Hopkins (2004), can they perceive visual beauty in particular forms.


Moreover, it is arguable that the notions of ugliness and imperfection put forward by social and cultural aestheticism have excluded many people with disabilities from functioning in what are perceived to be normal social settings. It could be argued, therefore, that a Western movement towards either utopianism or natural laws of perfection have constructed assumed notions of almost moral “wrongness” and rightness about the human body.


As a consequence, I would contest, those arguments presented by scientists and philosophers in the previous chapter are based on the assumption that there is a natural state of ability from which a state of disability deviates: this is the notion of the myth or common-sensical notion analysed in the arguments presented by my influences. This segment now continues by discussing the constructs on which the Epistemological Model of Disability is based.


The construction of the Epistemological Model of Disability

In terms of this model, I would argue that if we are to judge how political relativism has affected our notions of art education and blindness, themselves formed by social and scientifically created mythologically influenced attitudes, the framework of investigation must contain the following elements:


  1. It must have an element of the analysis of the creation of historicism: i.e. it must discover where the notions that natural laws exist are derived from, similar to Popper and Kuhn’s analyses of scientific assumptions and paradigms


  1. It must analyse the encoding of the myths, through its language and symbolism, similar to the philosophical and anthropological analysis of Barthes, Geertz, Levi-Strauss and Wittgenstein


  1. And finally, it must have the ability to demonstrate that these notions of mythological self belief have outcomes for those that believe in them, and those that are the product of those who believe in them


It is therefore the main purpose of the use of political relativism to demonstrate a timeline and its consequences according to a human created ideal of disability. The framework I have chosen as a basis of this Epistemological Model of Disability is de Saussure’s framework of semiotic analysis, as it contains both a historical timeline and a means for analysis in the “here and now”. This is presented below.


Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotic model of analysis


De Saussure’s original model

Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1972) framework was devised in the early twentieth century from his criticism of the division of linguistics into two distinct sub-disciplines: the first sub-division was the study of the history of language; the second was the study of language in the present or a defined, short period of history. De Saussure argued that this was a strange way of examining his subject, as the history of a language affected what was happening within it now. I would argue that his theories were related to those of Parker, Popper and Kuhn in terms of different branches of the social sciences.


Consequently, de Saussure founded the semiotic scale of language studies. The use of this model has therefore subsequently been kept mostly within the study of linguistics. However, as my early reading of his study indicates, originally de Saussure felt that this principle could be applied to other scientific and social scientific concepts and disciplines.

It is certain that all sciences would benefit from identifying more carefully the axes along which the things they are concerned with may be situated.

De Saussure (1972: p.81)


It is to the detail of de Saussure’s model that I now turn, to use as an analogy of the development of knowledge into subjective behaviour and task performance in response to real world contexts and what Popper refers to as the chaotic influences that change these theories. In my framework, therefore, I have changed the analysis of language to an analysis of knowledge systems and theories about blindness and disability.


Signs, symbols and meaning

To begin this description, I will replicate de Saussure’s (1972) definitions: the meanings of words are signifieds or semantics; the signs or symbol systems that describe these meanings are thus the signifiers or syntax. Both concepts can also be applied to our epistemological framework. For instance, the natural phenomena being described by the epistemological framework is analogous to the signified. The knowledge system being described in the epistemological framework is analogous to the signifier. Knowledge is after all a linguistic interpretation of realities.


De Saussure’s description of the transformation from the signified to the signifier was in terms of three positions on a semiotic scale. At one end of the scale are icons. These symbols represent their signifiers exactly. Although only a theoretical symbol in written or artistic formal language - as no signified can ever be reproduced in its entirety - religious relics that are thought to hold mystical powers are examples of these: the iconic figures of the Madonna, statues of Hindu gods, the stone in Mecca and the Mount of Olives. This position is unique.


In the centre of de Saussure’s scale are indexes, a type of signifier. An index is a partial distortion of a signified in its representation. Instances of this symbol are toilet door symbols of men and women. They are also cartoons in which a representation of a person is distorted in some way in order to emphasise elements of their personality. The Spitting Image puppets of the 1980s are examples of this symbol, as is clipart. This is the linguistic Second World.


At the far end of this scale is the sign, the most extreme form of signifier. A sign is a complete abstraction of the signified, and its original signified is unrecognisable. In a way, it needs to have the potential to lie before it can be called a sign. All of these positions are illustrated in the graph below.


Diagram 3.1: De Saussure’s scale from the Icon to the Sign





This chapter now continues by describing de Saussure’s system for analysing the development of the symbol to the sign.


Diachronic and synchronic analyses

In order to analyse the development of social knowledge systems from the icon to the sign, de Saussure devised a model that addresses the study of the development through two states: the diachronic and the synchronic. Analyses of the diachronic states are historical linguistic studies, i.e. those studies that involve analyses of language through time. In terms of our epistemological framework they can be seen as the development of knowledge from a subjective to an objective state.


Such analyses include, for instance, examinations of how symbols have distorted their graphical shapes and sounds. They also examine how words developed or become integrated within language groups. In linguistic analysis, these studies have investigated the development of word forms from cave paintings, through petroglyphs and hieroglyphs, into alphabetical forms.


Analyses of synchronic states, on the other hand, are traditionally analyses of language in its position as a “slice” of time, a generation or a specified historical era within a specific environment, i.e. they examine how symbols exist “within” a “place” in history. For instance, the synchronic analysis of the lion index in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs around the time of a particular king or queen might, therefore, represent this individual’s encounters with this animal’s bravery. The conjoining of these analyses of language is represented in the diagram below.


Diagram 3.2: De Saussure’s Synchronic & Diachronic Axis









In practical terms, the application of de Saussure’s model results in splitting my analysis into two separate analyses around the development of social knowledge, and its current applications and effects. The first analysis I undertook was the development of behaviour, the artistic materials, classrooms, the artefacts the students produce, their lessons, and their subjective human experiences of creating and perceiving these artefacts and existing in these environments. This was the synchronic study. This study was followed by an analysis of the transition from the historical scientific knowledge to the current state - the history of the knowledge that formed their experiences.


How I went about collecting the evidence to fit this framework is now discussed in the following chapter. I begin by describing the forms of data collection I decided to use, and then present a narrative of what actually happened.



 © Simon Hayhoe 2005, 2007


[1] In this discussion, I define intellectual disabilities to be impairments affecting mental awareness and cognitive function, such as Downs Syndrome, and emotional disabilities to be impairments that affect a person’s self esteem, communication and emotional stability, such as depression.

[2] He made these observations when he tried to teach this subject as a primary school master in Austria.


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