Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

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Power, Ideology and Structure: The Legacy of Normalization for Intellectual Disability

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Abstract:  Since its first formulation in English, the ‘principle of normalization’ has had a profound impact on policy and practice in the field of intellectual disability. Over the past fifty years, normalization, and Social Role Valorization, have drawn on liberal humanist philosophy, adopting varied and complex positions in relation to it. This article will consider an apparent structural correspondence between a discourse of ‘liberal equality’ with versions of normalization that emphasised conformity to social norms, and those drawing primarily on ‘liberal autonomy’, emphasising independence and self-determination of people with intellectual disabilities. Despite this seeming correspondence, the article eschews a structuralist account in favour of a discursive and rhizomatic model, in which the philosophical elements are seen as tactical forces deployed in the pursuit of wider strategic ends. The article concludes by highlighting paradoxes in contemporary thinking that can be traced to the legacy of normalization, specifically, the tensions between sameness, difference, equality and independence.

Keywords:  Deleuze; disability; discourse analysis; ethics; Foucault; ideology; intellectual disability; normalization principle; power; structuralism



© Murray K. Simpson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.