The 'arts' as cultural intervention for people with learning disabilities : a voluntary sector 'community' initiative in south-east London
This thesis examines 'cultural intervention' by arts practitioners/social activists in inner city London,England, in the lives of adults who have 'learning disabilities'. 'Cultural intervention' is thought necessary largely in response to their social and cultural exclusion. This has been highlighted by recent shifts in social policy, particularly those of the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. An anthropological critique of social policy and welfarism as related to people with learning disabilities in Britain is offered, questioning the existence of 'community' at an ideological and material level. Also, the role of the 'arts' as an arena in which social and cultural attitudes can be challenged is explored. This is achieved through the study of relevant theoretical literature, drawing on anthropology and performance and disability studies,combined with analysis of fieldwork data collected in an arts company, Entelechy, between January 1997 and April 1999. Consequences of social policy on the lives of people with learning disabilities are (indirectly) explored through their participation in 'performance' (including drama, dance and music);visual and tactile media; and narrative, based in workshops. Issues around representation, subjectivity and corporeality are addressed. Qualitative anthropological methods were utilised, specifically participant observation and interviews, in addition to non-traditional techniques, as the work of Entelechy encompasses a wide range of people, including those with poor communication skills. Additionally, the research demonstrates that behaviour labelled as 'pathological' by the medical profession is often a powerful form of protest, meeting participants' needs. Entelechy's work is contextualised within alternative arts movements incorporating the avant-garde and community theatre. This runs in opposition to the employment of arts as 'therapy' by some 'professionals' working with learning disabled people, who emphasise pathology and rehabilitation towards a 'normative' state, rather than creative ability or cultural expression. A unique cultural experiment is thus examined, creating arenas for dialogue.