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In-Visible Difference: Dance, Disability and Law

1 January 2013 - 31 December 2015

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Charlotte Waelde

Research partners: Professor Sarah Whatley (University of Coventry)
Dr Abbe Brown (University of Aberdeen)
Dr Shawn Harmon (University of Edinburgh)
Janice Richardson (Monash Australia)

Funding awarded: £ 217,184

Sponsor(s): Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Project webpage(s)

In-Visible Difference: Dance, Disability and Law

About the research

This project sets out to extend current thinking about the making, status, ownership and value of work by performance artists in the 21st century. It will do so by focusing on one art form; dance, and specifically dance made and performed by disabled dance artists.

By considering different theoretical and practical perceptions of creation, interpretation and authorship, and different perspectives on the role of law in relation to creative practice, the Project will investigate how existing theoretical and legal frameworks might help or hinder the participation of disabled dance artists in mainstream performance. That enquiry will be aligned within models of disability articulated by disabled people and by the law (IP, human rights and medical law); and will draw on empirical observation of the construction of dance as developed by choreographers and dancers and map that on to the legal framework.

In so doing, the Project will both uncover and discover new ways of thinking about how dance made and performed by disabled dance artists contributes to our cultural life, and it will seek to lay the foundations for a new theoretical framework for transforming the legal landscape. The Project will thus have much wider application and impact, by identifying new models for recognising intellectual property and what the implications might be for those working within the cultural and legal communities, within and beyond the Academy.

The Project brings together researchers from two different disciplines - dance and law - and draws on concepts and methods from the arts and social sciences. We will conduct our research in collaboration with dance artists, both disabled and non-disabled, and with arts professionals and policymakers, to discover how artists view their role in the creative process in relation to others, and their experience of embodiment and bodily habitus.

We will then disseminate the research via scholarly publications, policy papers and via a series of public events, some in conjunction with performances, to establish positive dialogues with and between stakeholders, including dance artists, educators and policymakers.

A core component in the Project is therefore the knowledge exchange between researchers and practitioners and the distribution of knowledge across different discipline areas. This will raise awareness of the particular challenges and opportunities faced by disabled people and strengthen the case for change (where necessary) in working practices and the legal frameworks that underpin the artists' work.

Above all, the Project will seek to empower disabled dance artists and strengthen their place in our cultural milieu.


In 2012, Professor Waelde, Dr Brown and Dr Harmon published an article 'Do You See What I See? Disability, Technology, Law and the Experience of Culture' which examined the treatment of the disabled in law at the intersection with technology and culture.

Other Outcomes

Professor Waelde responded to the consultation on the Hargreaves Review in partnership with CALL Scotland focusing on the exceptions and limitations in the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 for the print disabled.