chapter  7
Biographies of place: challenging offi cial spatial constructions of sickness and disability
Pages 15

In this chapter we ask a range of related questions. Why do some localities have a much higher incidence of impairment and chronic illness than others? Why do social policy initiatives and health interventions work in some areas and make little impact elsewhere? This chapter will argue that a critical disability studies perspective is required in order to challenge offi cial spatial constructions of sickness and disability. It will confront the way in which public health researchers and geographers have tended to focus on composition or contextual effects (Macintyre et al . 2002 ) instead of seeking a more integrated understanding of spaces and places, as is required when taking a critical disability studies perspective. This chapter will argue that there is a need to understand places as possessing specifi c identities with intersections between environment, history and culture: a ‘biography of place’ (Warren 2011 ). The core of this idea is that places have biographies in the same way as individuals. Furthermore, the intersection of individual and spatial biographies is particularly signifi cant for understanding the structure and impact of disabling barriers. Additionally, relations between collective and individual biographies matter. The relationship between place and the potential individuals have to improve their personal situation and overcome barriers within spaces that have been shaped by a wider collective biography must also be considered. The implications of this approach will be considered by exploring a case study of the former mining district of Easington in County Durham, North East England, UK. In conclusion, we argue that employing the notion of a ‘biography of place’ has the potential to result in innovative, more effective and better targeted social policy interventions that challenge disabling barriers not only at the level of the individual but also attempt to address barriers which affect entire localities.