An Exploratory Study of the Representation of People with Disabilities in Mainstream American Music in 1987, 1997, and 2007

By Christine Hochbaum.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

The purpose of this study is to explore the way in which music portrays people with disabilities. Specifically, the aim of this paper is to answer the following questions: a) are all types of disabilities equally represented in music; b) how are people with disabilities referred to in music; c) is the terminology in the music related to the type and/or cause of disability; and d) are the two primary models of disability (i.e. medical and social) equally illustrated in music. A content analysis of songs randomly selected from the Billboard HOT 100 Year-End Chart for the years 1987, 1997, and 2007 was carried out. Songs were included in the sample if the music lyrics or title contained content on specific disabilities, disabilities in general or chronic conditions that could lead to disability. The data showed that the presence of disability within songs increased over the years analyzed. Terminology used to refer to people with disabilities was most often insensitive which reflects disabling language rather than sensitive, people-first language. Similarly, the majority of songs had a traditional, medical focus rather than a progressive, social focus. Together, findings indicated that, within the mainstream music industry, the depiction and attitudes toward people with disabilities has not substantially improved over time. Further work needs to be conducted by social movements to promote awareness and reduce social stigma.

Keywords: Disability, Music, Media, Language, United States

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp.227-240. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 674.185KB).

Christine Hochbaum

Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I am currently enrolled in my second year in the Doctoral program in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I am undertaking comprehensive examinations in two areas of specialization, namely, the Sociology of Health and Disability, and the Sociology of the Family with completion anticipated for April 2010. The dissertation research that I will be conducting is an extension of my Master’s thesis research which sought to discover the way in which child health status and parenting styles are related to child bebaviour problems. Despite, the abundance of research that has been dedicated to understanding and identifying the determinants and precursors of child behaviour problems, a contentious issue still remains which is: are these problems primarily a result of child characteristics, environmental factors or the reciprocal interchange over time between the environment (parents and others) and the organism (the child)? My dissertation research will seek to address this question.

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