Social models of disability and culture

12 November 2013

At AND, we work to ensure that all young people across London have access to the best arts and culture in the world.

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However; we are aware that although London has a wealth of arts and culture on offer - often this is accessed by those that have the cultural, social and economic capital that allows them to be confident cultural consumers, able to make informed decisions about the different cultural activities they choose to engage in.

Through our research with young Londoners - we have identified that schools and families play a critical role in facilitating engagement in Arts and Culture across London, but if you don’t have this support network around you, the cultural sector can be another alienating place that ‘isn’t for me’.

What implications does this have for the cultural sector?

Within the context of decreased public spending, and more explicit targets, to what extent should cultural organizations be thinking about young people with additional needs that aren’t accessing arts and culture, versus the ‘quick wins‘ that can be facilitated through school visits, and links with families that are already highly engaged in an organisations offer.

Another lens we are using to focus on this emerging strand of work is poverty in our recent 'Priced Out' essay - which details all the ways in which poverty has an impact on the lives of children and young people in London, and the implications this has for arts and culture.

Understanding the needs of young Londoners is key in being able to shape an offer that works for the sector - but to what extent should organisations recognise that their spaces and practices may also play a part in re-enforcing negative perceptions of cultural engagement?

The de-politicisation of the vast majority of society, those living under the pleasureable engagements of consumption, has converted 'the poor' into society’s new 'other'.

In an age of flexible capitalism the poor no longer act as a reserve army of labour and are better seen as the waste products of consumer society...the under-class in a society of post-ideological consumerism is the new enemy to be kept outside of the spaces and places where the affluent enjoy themselves.*

Developing arts & cultural activities for young people from specific groups

At AND a number of our projects have specific priorities in developing arts and cultural activities for, by and with young people from specific groups; with young people often referred to in clearly defined categories such as 'NEET, Disabled, In care,' etc.

The policy context for these groups is clearly laid out in the Department for Education’s 'Positive for Youth'and the research report 'Understanding vulnerable young people: Analysis from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England'. These documents outline the different contexts that face young people that place them within the definition of disadvantaged and vulnerable.

The label of 'disadvantaged and vulnerable' covers a variety of indicators that go into very specific detail about some of the challenges that young people face today.

Through conversations at AND, we have been dissecting this label and framing of a policy problem, and are attempting to re-frame this context of vulnerable and disadvantaged young people based on the concept of the social model of disability.

Instead of problematising and segregating young people, and expecting young people to adapt to models and practices the cultural sector is comfortable with; does a model where we assume that young people have less engagement with culture because of the fact they are tradtionally excluded from taking part because of their social, economic, cultural or physical needs lead us as a sector to re-evaluate our offer?

To this extent - what ways could cultural organisations being to open up their physical (and intellectual) 'places and spaces' to allow for more inclusive practice; and objectively look at their own practice to evaluate what exclusionary tactics are unconsciously ingrained within their organisation?

It is a big challenge for any organisation - but is inevitably an awkward question that must be asked.

Cultural Theory - Classical and Contemporary Positions (ed. Tim Edwards)
Cultural Citizenship, Questions of consumerism, consumption and policy. Nick Stevenson

* Photo credit: Ed Stone for the Roundhouse