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French-Japanese perspectives on disability: Welfare policies and social participation

10-12 mars 2022
A distance - Paris (France)
As a result of demographic and epidemiologic transitions, research tackling the issue of disability (be it age-related disabilities, chronic diseases, congenital disabilities or disabilities resulting from accidents) is brought to the fore in developed countries. In the social sciences, this field has been on the rise since the 1980’s, yet at the international level, it has been dominated by English-speaking countries and the approach of (critical) disability studies. In France and in Japan, as in other countries in Europe and Asian, research has emerged at the same period but, to this day, few comparisons and collaborations have been conducted between these two countries. Yet, French and Japanese situations do possess similarities and differences that can be analyzed in order to shed light on recent transformations in the social treatment of disability and to contribute to shaping future policies aimed at meeting demographic challenges while guaranteeing disabled people’s human rights and citizenship. In the field of social policies, both countries have been historically influenced by hygienics and eugenics, then by the creation of the Welfare State, and are now shifting to inclusive and anti-discrimination policies drawing on international legislation, especially the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by France in 2010 and by Japan in 2014. Therefore, social policies are based on two different (and sometimes conflicting) approaches: on the one hand, specific protection measures (such as employment quotas for disabled people, implemented both in France and Japan) and, on the other hand, inclusion policies favoring mainstreaming. People with disabilities have created self-advocacy groups in both countries to condemn paternalism and oppression associated with segregation policies. Their mobilization has largely contributed to the current shift towards deinstitutionalization (especially in the field of special education, through the development of inclusive education of disabled children in ordinary schools, as opposed to education in special schools), a trend that is visible in both countries, even though national specificities are visible as well. In parallel to this movement, since the beginning of the 21st century, disability policies have been impacted by the neoliberal turn: policies fostering the “activation” of welfare recipients have weakened protection mechanisms for disabled and elderly people, in order to promote individual responsibility and autonomy. The ideal of autonomy, shared by all actors of disability policies (policymakers, professional, associations…), call for the general development of accessibility in society. The fight for accessibility has started with the claim for barrier-free buildings and public transportations, and its scope has been progressively extended so as to rethink every aspect of public space through the lens of Universal Design. More recently, public policies have extended the notion of accessibility to services and common goods: education, work, health, leisure…However, the effectiveness of these rights is still limited, as many barriers remain, especially due to economic issues and the social stigma associated with disability. The social sciences are an essential tool to understand all these changes. They contribute to analyze how these evolutions impact disabled people’s daily experiences and life courses over the long run, and to assess the efficiency of policies aimed at promoting inclusion and social participation. For now, collaborations between French and Japanese researchers in social sciences in the field of disability have been very limited. As mentioned in introduction, most international collaborations developed in this field have been collaborations with English-speaking countries. However, due to the many similarities between policies implemented in France and Japan (yet in social and cultural contexts that are different in many ways), a French-Japanese comparative perspective can be very fruitful to analyze the impact of these policies. This seminar is aimed at gathering French and Japanese scholars working on disability-related issues. It is a first step in bringing together two communities, members of ALTER – European Society for Disability Research, and members of Japanese academic networks related to disability such as Japan Society for Disability Studies, who have had very few opportunities to engage in intellectual exchanges up to this day. It will be organized by the research program Disability and Society (PHS, Programme Handicap et Société) at EHESS and the Research Center on East Asians Civilizations (CRCAO). It is supported by ALTER – European Society for Disability Research, the Japan Foundation and the EHESS France-Japan Foundation’s website.
Discipline scientifique : Sciences de l'Homme et Société

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