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Disability and Degeneracy 1850- 1914: Able ideology as moral critique

Project Description

Project reference number - GSBS-2019-105

The discourse of degeneracy in the late 19th century was a powerful reactionary force that predicted the immanent moral collapse of a society sliding towards the abyss in manners, the arts and the general condition of the people; modernity, ever more prone, as proponents of eugenics energetically argued, to idiocy, physical weakness, insanity and disease (Nordau 1895). For every prophet of progress there was a prophet of doom who saw in the chaos of industrialisation, monstrous degeneracy and moral decline and who drew on theories of natural science and evolution to give such arguments the gloss of legitimacy (Pick 1993). Max Nordau was the most popular and influential among the many social diagnosticians who predicted descent into moral exhaustion and social collapse (Ascheim 1993). Pick (1993: 4) argues that: ’the dominant scene of degeneration ... was displaced from the individual (specific cretins, criminals, the insane and so on) and even the family ... to society itself - crowds, masses, cities, modernity’. The natural and medical sciences, as well as the social sciences of sociology, psychology, criminology, anthropology, were saturated by the discourse of degeneracy. Social criticism and literature were also influenced by its endemic presence. The critical examination of these pessimistic narratives and their intersections with the eugenic invalidation of disabled people’s lives will be the focus of this research proposal

Supervisory Team

Name: Professor Bill Hughes
GCU Research Online URL:

Name: Prof Oonagh Walsh
GCU Research Online URL:

This project is available as a 3/4 years full-time PhD.

Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying.

How to Apply

To apply for this project, use the following link to access the online application form, as well as further information on how to apply:

Please send any other enquires regarding your application to:

Funding Notes

Applicants are expected to find external funding sources to cover the tuition fees and living expenses. Alumni and International students new to GCU who are self-funding are eligible for fee discounts. See more of fees and funding. View Website

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