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In this article, we argue that while an appreciation of disability's cultural context is fundamental, we should be careful not to replace one essentialist version of disability with a new one. We look at the relational patterns that emerge from the specific circumstances of significant intellectual disability. This article follows Clifford Geertz’ well‐known account of the multiple layers of cultural context and interpretive richness raised by even a seemingly simple act such as winking. By exploring the meaning of son's ability to wink, we argue that intellectual disability may be interpreted as the absence of culture. The article goes on to explore the fragility of this relationship through the example of the cultural status of adulthood. Two recent reform initiatives ‐ independent living and community inclusion ‐ are discussed in light of this interpretation of intellectual disability. Implications for further research are briefly mentioned.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, volume 3, issue 2, in 2001, available online: DOI: 10.1080/15017410109510777

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Taylor & Francis



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