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Competent/Incompetent : Questioning the Legal and Social Boundaries of Personhood

By Bach, Michael

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Book Id: WPLBN0002011972
Format Type: PDF eBook
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Reproduction Date: 2010

Title: Competent/Incompetent : Questioning the Legal and Social Boundaries of Personhood  
Author: Bach, Michael
Language: English
Subject: Persons, Education, Sociology of, Education, Special
Collections: Canadian Libraries Collection
Publication Date:


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1956-, B. M. (2004). Competent/Incompetent : Questioning the Legal and Social Boundaries of Personhood. Retrieved from

Adviser: Dorothy Smith; Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Toronto, 2004; Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 65-10, Section: A, page: 3751; Guided by methods of institutional ethnography, I examine the competent/incompetent boundary in the context of a particular legal case where competency was in question---the Clark v. Clark case. Justin Clark wants to leave the residential institution he has been confined to for most of the eighteen years of his life. However, he must first confront a legal challenge by his father who claims he is incompetent to make that decision. Examining how acts of recognition and knowledge-making practices are organized in this case help to understand how the status of people with intellectual disabilities is diminished. The study finds an institutional complex for determining incompetency that includes state institutions for making such judgements, closely linked to the science of intellectual disability, both of which are justified through a dominant bioethics narrative about personhood. Nonetheless, there are knowledge-making practices mobilized in the Clark case that run counter to the dominant positivist epistemology for knowing incompetence. The judge deploys a narrative re-construction of Justin to reveal his subjectivity and personhood as the ground for determining his competency, a challenge to the usual means by which competency is determined. Analysis of this case points to guidance principles to challenge the institutional complex that mandates determinations of incompetency. The principles suggest that those who have personal relationship to one whose competence is in question should have legal status and be able to challenge the dominant epistemologies entailed in determining competency/incompetency. Such communities of knowers should be supported to construct narrative identities of the person prior to testing decision-making capacity. Communities of knowers, the study suggests, could obtain status and legitimacy in holding to standards of ideal speech and moral conversations that question objectification of others and challenge the dominant bioethics narrative that defines persons exclusively as instrumentally rational, freely contracting agents.The social relations and legal institutions of competency-related law often determine that people with intellectual disabilities are incompetent and on this basis should have their personhood denied. This study critically examines the nature of knowledge-making practices that render such determinations, their legal mandating, their ethical justification, and searches paths to alternate practices which might better secure the personhood of individuals with intellectual disabilities

Contributor: Internet Archive ; The digitization of this title was sponsored by Internet Archive

Additional Subjects: Mental health laws; People with mental disabilities; Law


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