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A socio-political and technical history of the Sports Wheelchair

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, May 30, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Little is currently known about the history of wheelchairs in general or the role of disabled people in their development. For millions of disabled people around the world the wheelchair has been one of the most important and significant technological innovations of the 20th Century. This research will look at the development of one particular chair, the sport wheelchair and their influence on the evolution of wheelchairs and on disability politics, as the innovations developed for sport chairs transferred from the courts and tracks to become incorporated into the design, manufacture and use of everyday wheelchairs.

Previous work which has explored the development of wheelchair from either medicine or engineering portray wheelchair development in terms of scientific and technological progress and in doing this has tended to obscure the complex social and technical interactions which have underpinned their development. The sports wheelchair emerged through the actions of wheelchair users and wheelchair athletes as they sought to improve their performance on the courts and the track. The innovations and developments they sought to implement often ran counter to the wishes of wheelchair manufacturers, health care professionals and those who controlled wheelchair sports. The emergence of the sport wheelchair marks a significant moment not just in the history of sport and disability but also in the history of disability and disability politics. It is this intersection that this project aims to uncover.

In reconstructing the development of the sport wheelchair the project will bring together the history of science and technology, the history of Paralympic sport and the history of disability politics and activism. It will, in particular, look at the role of disabled athletes in this story and their agency and actions both in developing new innovations and incorporating new technologies into the wheelchair and in challenging those who sought to resist this development. What will make this account so powerful is that it is a success story for a group who have historically been excluded from design processes.

The project will draw on archival and documentary sources and on oral histories. In reconstructing the history the student will interview wheelchair users, wheelchair athletes, wheelchair designers, representatives from wheelchair manufacturers, medical and health professionals and government officials and civil servants. These oral histories will be supplemented by an extensive search of archival resources of a range of relevant publications including publications by disability groups such as; Magic Carpet (the journal of the Invalid Tricycle Association, ITA), Paraplegia News (the journal of the Paralysed Veteran’s of America, PVA) Sports’n’Spokes (a journal also published by the PVA focusing on wheelchair sports). They will also review technical-scientific publications, such as Paraplegia, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the British Journal of Biomedical Science. Other archives will include the UK’s Public Records Office and the National Register of Archives and the National Archives in the US.

Funding Notes

We encourage applications from students with the following qualifications and experience:
• A first class, Upper Second (or equivalent) undergraduate degree, preferably in a relevant subject
• Applicants should also have a Masters-level degree that satisfies AHRC eligibility requirements for advanced research training, or equivalent professional/occupational experience.
• We may accept relevant work experience in lieu of a Masters.

Please also see additional eligibility on the postgraduate research funding website.

Related Subjects

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