In his important and timely book Politics, Disability and Social Inclusion. People with different abilities in the 21st Century, Dr. Peter Gibilisco makes an innovative and major contribution to debates around, and our understandings of, politics, disability and social inclusion.
Bringing together theoretical debates around what constitutes a just society, up-to-date analysis of policy and political movements around disability, and important empirical material, including interviews with key thinkers and drawing on his own life experiences, Gibilisco makes a significant case for both the importance of a sociological approach to engaging with disability and for the continuing relevance of a pragmatic social democratic approach as a means of moving towards a socially just and inclusive society.
The book is divided into ten chapters. After an introductory chapter, in which the author sets out the terms of the debates and the central aspects of his arguments, the following three chapters engage with social democracy, neo-liberalism and the third way, both in general terms and in the context of the politics of disability.
Chapter five broadens the theoretical domain of the book by exploring processes associated with globalisation, while chapter six is a vital chapter in which Gibilisco sets out the defining elements of a just society, a society which is inclusive of people with disabilities.
Chapters seven, eight and nine then explore different dimensions of the lives of people with disabilities, focusing on employment, education and service provision. Chapter ten provides a conclusion to the book.
Throughout the book, while the primary focus is on the Australian context, the debates that the author engages with and the examples he uses mean that the book is of relevance well beyond Australia.
A striking feature of the book is the author’s capacity to draw on his own experiences as a person with a severe physical disability, and to consider how his personal experiences connect to broader societal processes and to the experiences of others in society.
Here, indeed, is a significant example of CW Mills’ concept of the sociological imagination in practice, namely, the ability of the author to show, through well developed personal narratives, how the experience of the individual is intimately related to broader social, economic and political processes.
Indeed, one of the highlights of the book is the capacity of the author to interweave theoretical, policy and personal processes together to provide a compelling narrative about the politics of disability in contemporary societies. To give one specific example, the author makes a persuasive argument that societies such as Australia should not be fully satisfied if people with disabilities succeed in higher education.
While such outcomes are of course important, there is an ongoing obligation on society to ensure that structures and opportunities are in place so that individuals who have succeeded in education can continue to engage in a proactive way in society.
In other words, from a policy perspective, measuring the number of enrolments or graduations from education, while important, is not enough in terms of conceptualising policy outcomes. There is a need to consider what happens post-education. As the author’s own experiences show, societies such as Australia fall well short in this regard.
At a structural level, in the chapters on employment, education and service provision, the author shows both how people with disabilities have been able to create opportunities for themselves in these areas, but also shows how they continue to experience systemic discrimination. Here, the author is able to make important connections between policy processes, societal attitudes, and the dominance of the biomedical model in conceptualisations of people with disabilities.