Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s (GMCDP’s) archive is the largest physical collection relating to Britain’s Disabled People’s Movement (DPM). Unlike the University of Leeds’ Disability Archive, which contains only academic publications and lectures, it holds over 100 boxes of papers from local and national Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) from 1974 to the present: including political reports, policy discussions, and theoretical publications.
Despite the initial promise of Disability Studies to build ‘firm links with organizations controlled and run by disabled people’ and ‘to reflect and develop their insights and interests’ (Barnes: 2008), the gulf between academic research and DPO activists’ projects is widening. This is reflected in the 2019 special issue of Disability and Society, which calls for a ‘renewal’ of their relationship and a re-centering of the voice of disabled activists. The summer opening of GMCDP’s archives offers a unique opportunity to develop this renewal.
The academic-activist disjunct is predicated on theoretical controversies, and a lack of available research material. Many in Disability Studies (cf, Shakespeare and Watson: 2002, Armer: 2004) explicitly reject materialist approaches to disablement common to DPOs in favour of post-structuralist methodologies; while accounts of activists’ conceptions of their roles remain rare within published research. By utilising the GMCDP archives to explore previously unavailable activist statements and construct a political history of DPO activism, I attempt to close this gap and develop a philosophical approach to disablement that can reunite disability activism and academic work.