Historical Social Research

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Jay Rowell: Rescaling Disability: The Construction of a European Social Group and Policy Arena. [Abstract]

Control over the production, the circulation and the use of statistical knowledge is inextricably linked to bureaucratic forms of domination. The historiography of the building of the modern State insists on the tight relationship between the capacity to collect and utilise statistical knowledge and the consolidation of bureaucratic domination. The creation of statistical categories symbolically unifies territories, social groups and practices. Similarly, the European Union has invested heavily in harmonising statistical categories, thereby providing institutions and actors with uniform descriptive languages. However, unlike statistical constructs of the Nation States of the 18th and 19th Centuries, European statistical categories are generated in a context of pre-existing statistical categories structuring public policies and social practice and institutions. The article will be empirically based on the emergence of EU disability policy which managed to carve out a new arena for policy discussion and coordination form the 1990s on. Although this policy does not imply a transfer of sovereignty, the statistical unification of this social group at the European level and the structuring of interest groups and expert groups can be interpreted as an exercise of rescaling which has transformed the definition of disability as a policy problem and operated a shift in resources and legitimacies among stakeholders. Despite the successful creation of a unified statistical category, the article will look into some reasons for the limited use of disability statistics in policy making, but then show how alliances put in place by the Commission with interest groups and expert circles institutionalised a new European sector for policy discussion.

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