Definitions of Disability in Social Sciences : Methodological Perspectives

Sammanfattning: This dissertation examines how disability researchers define disability. It is based on four studies. The first describes different definitions of disability in disability research. The second study is a conceptual analysis of the use of disability in a sample of disability research classics. In this study, it is evident that use of the concept is all but clear. It is concluded that especially environmentally based disability definitions would benefit from further empirical investigations. The notion that environmental factors (such as barriers) are a causal aspect of disability is rather widely accepted among disability researchers. However, it has not been empirically studied to such an extent that it is possible to construct workable theories of this relationship.The third study focuses on administrative definitions of disability and investigates the possibility of using data on disabled people that have been gathered by Swedish welfare authorities. It is concluded that rich data are available, but also that researchers must scrutinize how disability has been defined in these contexts. These authorities often start from medical understandings of disability, which may clash with contemporary understandings of disability as being environmentally based.The fourth study is a statistical analysis of the effects of different disability definitions on dependent variables. The analyses emphasize variables often included in studies of living conditions. There are major effects of choice of disability definition on the outcome in relation to such variables.The dissertation strongly rejects efforts to standardize disability definitions; different analytical purposes require different kinds of conceptualizations. Instead, the dissertation suggests that case-constructing reflexivity be conducted. Case-constructing reflexivity means that the researcher starts with a careful analysis of how disability is best defined in relation to the aims of the study, and continues by being constantly aware of how the choice of definition may affect sampling, analyses and results.