Scott—The Making of Blind Men

The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization

by Robert A. Scott

[Scott, Robert A. 1969. The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization. Russell Sage Foundation.]

Points

  • In one line: “blindness” is a learned social role, inculcated by both blindness agencies and larger society
  • The book comes out of a project Scott began within the blindness car industries that sought to
    1. obtain a systematic view of the blindness problem in America, and to determine—
    2. which aspects were being dealt with and which were not,
    3. how effective the organized system was,
    4. the consequences for blind people who join blindness agencies, and
    5. the potential application of social science theory to this field
  • He interviewed about a hundred blind people, almost a hundred workers in the blindness field, and visited many programs and agencies for the blind.
  • Big take away from the project: “Two facts of paramount sociological importance emerged from these experiences. The first is that many of the attitudes, behavior pat­terns, and qualities of character that have long been assumed to be given to blind people by their condition are, in fact, the result of ordinary processes of socialization. The second is that organized intervention programs for the blind play a major role in determin­ing the nature of this socialization” (3).

Before the book, there were three explanations of behavior patterns and attitudes of the blind:

  1. commonsense explanation
    • mostly folkloric, blind people have a fundamentally different internal experience and world than sighted people, melancholic and spiritual.
    • But this would mean all blind people act the same way, which is not true
  2. psychological explanation
    • blind people are not all the same, but they are all dealing with the same type of initial shock. The way they deal with it is diverse, but predictable.
    • But many people deny their technical blindness, so there is no initial shock. Also, if the person does not act n the predicted way, the fault then lies in the blind person, which ruins any empirical value of the explanation
  3. Stereotype explanation
    • misconceptions by laypeople affect and contribute to blind people’s behaviors:
      • “When, for example, sighted people continually insist that a blind man is helpless because he is blind, their subsequent treatment of him may preclude his ever exercising the kinds of skills that would enable him to be independent. It is in this sense that stereotypic beliefs are self-actualized (9).
    • But this theory puts too much emphasis on belief, rather than lived reality.

The major thesis of the book is that

  • blindness is a learned social role. People whose vision fails will learn in two contexts the attitudes and behavior patterns that the blind are supposed to have, in their personal relationships with those with normal vision and in the organizations that exist to serve and to help blind people” (117).

It is important to note that in the

  • “total network of agencies, organizations and programs for the blind. caters to about one-quarter of all people who are, according to ad­ministrative regulations, blind … These are the blind children who can be educated and the blind adults who can be employed. The system largely screens out the elderly, the unemployable. the uneducable. and the multiply-handicapped—in other words, the vast bulk of the blindness population” (119).

They all come out as “blind” in the way the agency defines it—

  • “They have learned the attitudes and behavior pat­terns that professional blindness workers believe blind people should have … He is told that he is “insightful” when he comes to describe his problems and his personality as his rehabil­itators view them, and he is said to be “blocking” or “resisting” when he does not. Indeed, passage through the blindness system is determined in part by his willingness to adopt the experts’ views about self” (119).

blindness workers’ approaches: (119)

  • restorative approach
    • “assumes that blind people can lead independent and fulfilled lives in the outside world, but only if they first recognize and accept as final the fact that they are blind”
  • accommodative approach
    • regards these ob­jectives as noble but unrealistic for most blind people. It holds that a more realistic objective is to provide environments to which blind people can accommodate with a minimum of effort”

These techniques lead to people who truly internalize their social role as “blind”:

  • “The picture that emerges from my analysis is of a group of people who initially share in common only the fact that they have problems of vision and eventually come to feel and behave in patterned, predictable ways” (120-121).
  • “People who initially think of themselves as sighted people who have trouble seeing come to think of themselves as blind people who have residual vision. Blindness becomes the primary factor around which they organize their lives and in terms of which they relate to other people” (121).

Want more?—Of those 3/4 of the blind who don’t go through the programs, many of them don’t exhibit the “blind” behaviors the agencies expect:

  • “The overpowering importance of the blindness system in the socialization of the blind who are in it is demonstrated by looking at the blind who live outside it. These people, particularly blinded veterans and the independent blind. fail to display the attitudinal and behavioral patterns that so many insist they should have because they are blind. This demonstrates not only the importance of blindness organizations as agents of the socialization of the blind; it also demonstrates that blind men indeed are made” (120).

So, the last word on the blindness-creation complex:

  • “My analysis suggests that such organizations create for blind people the experiences of being blind. Such organizations are not, as some have suggested, merely helpers of the blind that facilitate or change processes already occurring; rather, they are active socializing agents that create and mold the fundamental attitudes and patterns of behavior that are at the core of the experi­ence of being a blind man” (121).

But all is not lost:

  • “Some may regard as deplorable the fact that blindness agencies have so great an impact upon the very nature of the phenomenon of blindness in our society. I do not, for it suggests that this system has the potential of becoming a powerful tool for positive social change” (121).

For a view of the book’s importance, here is an interesting book review from 1981

Annotation Summary for: Scott – The making of blind men (intro & Conclusion)

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “INTRODUCTION”

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “IN THE last hundred and fifty years, there has been developing in this country an increasingly formalized interest in helping blind people to participate more fully in the economic, social, and cul­ tural life of the society. From relatively modest beginnings, this interest has evolved into a large, intricate, multimillion-dollar national network of organizations, professional specialities, and programs for blind people. The phrase ”work for the blind” is used to designate this enterprise.”

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “During these years, no systematic studies have been made of the effects this complicated network has had upon the blind people who come into contact with it, or on the broader social and welfare prob-”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “lems of blindness in our society.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Today. the 800 or so separate orRru1izations, agencies. and programs for the blind in America spend nearly $.170.000.000 annually, and there is every indication that this enterprise will con· tinue to grow and expand in the years to come.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As the project was originally conceived. its basic purposes were as follows: (I) to obtain a systematic and integrated o\·erview of the blindness problem in America; ( 2) to detennine which as­ pects of this problem are being dealt with by work for the blind and which are not; (3) to determine the effectiveness of this Oll?anized intervention system in dealing with the aspects of the blindness problem on which it focuses; ( 4) to determine the consequences for blind people of their becoming clients of blindness agencit’s; and ( 5) to determine the potential application of social science knowl·edge to the theory and practice of this field.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It therefore fell to me to go out and collect whatever data could practicably be obtained, given the time and money constraints of the project.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Twofacts of paramount sociological importance emerged from theseexperiences. The first is that many of the attitudes, behavior pat­terns, and qualities of character that have long been assumed to be given to blind people by their condition are, in fact, the result ofordinary processes of socialization. The second is that organized intervention programs for the blind play a major role in determin­ing the nature of this socialization”

Page 3, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Blindness, then, is a social role that people who have serious difficulty seeing or who cannot see at all must learn how to play.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “PAST EXPLANATIONS”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Commonsense Explanations”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “rest upon the implicit assump-”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “tion that blind people possess personalities and psychologies that aredifferent from those of ordinary people. It is supposed that the blind dwell in a world that is apart from and beyond the one ordinary men inhabit. ”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “less gross and materialistic than our own, is said to be infused with a spirituality that gives its inhabitants a peculiar purity and innocence of mind.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” To be unable to see is to be helpless, to live in perpetual darkness is to be melancholic, blindness is de­pendence, and so on. There is a kind of simplicity to this explanationthat makes it appealing. ”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It is held that the restrictions imposed upon an individual by blindness are both numerous and specific, yet, on close examination, this assump·”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “tion proves to be erroneous. The only restrictions that this condi­ tion imposes result from the fact that the absence of vision prevents a person from relating directly to his distant physical environment.•”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Second, according to the commonsense view, the restrictions that allegedly inhere in blindness lead us to expect certain uniformities in the behavior and attitudes of all people who are totally blind.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “clini­ cal experiences of blindness workers together provide ample evi· dence that behavior, attitudes, and patterns of adaptation among the blind are not invariant but quite diverse.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Psychological Explanations”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Psychological explanations proceed from two basic assumptions, that the attitudes and behavior patterns exhibited by the blind are diverse rather than monolithic, and that this diversity is not idiosyn­ cratic, but patterned in a clear, predictable way.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This patterning is the result of two factors, the psychological reactions that all blind people have to becoming blind, and the enduring impact of the con­ dition upon basic components of personality.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” There is the shock that comes from so enormous a blow to self and person­ality; there is the grief that results from the loss of basic skills for coping with everyday life;”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If he adjusts, he can then attain independence and a”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “sense of mastery, in which case the behavior patterns that are al­ legedly inherent in blindness disappear. If he does not adjust, bis initial reactions at the onset of blindness stabilize into hard-core atti­ tudes and patterns of behavior.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “there are certain problems”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “First, this explanation holds that the reactions of blind people following the onset of blindness must follow a predictable and unvarying sequence.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “But what of the blind man, and there are some, whose reactions do not follow the prescribed course? How can we put to empir­ ical test a theory of blindness that explains negative cases by placing the fault with blind men rather than with the explanation?”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Second, the psychological explanation asserts that the only blind man who can diverge from the course set for him by his reactions to blind­ ness is the one who accepts the fact that he is blind and then sets out to compensate for his losses.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “we are given no clues as to how to determine if adjustment has oc­ curred independently of the behavior and attitudes that it allegedly produces. The statement is, therefore, a tautological proposition.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A second problem is that data from empirical research studies of the blind, such as they are, suggest that the psychological explana-”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “tion of the attitudes and behavior of the blind may be overgen­ eralized.”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Substantial numbers of people in his sample rejected the idea that they were blind even though their vision loss was severe enough to place them well within the bounds of the cur­ rently accepted administrative definition of bltndness.8 According to the psychological explanation, such persons could not have adjusted to their disability, since adjustment requires that they first accept the fact of their blindness.”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Stereotype Explanations”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The basic aim of this explanation is to show how misguided commonsense assumptions that laymen make about the blind affect the blind.”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While these beliefs are incorrect, they are also quite real. Sighted people rely upon them whenever they have dealings with the blind; they are expressed in the form of expectations by the sighted for the behavior of the blind.”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When, for example, sighted people continually insist that a blind man is helpless because he is blind, their subsequent treatment of him may preclude his ever exercising the kinds of skills that would enable him to be indepen- — dent. It is in this sense that stereotypic beliefs are self-actualized.”

Page 9, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “it helps to explain one of the main paradoxes about blind people, namely, that the behavior of at least some subgroups of the blind conforms to the stereotypes in spite of the fact that there is nothing about the condition of blindness that makes such behavior necessary.”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “there is one difficulty with this theory; it”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “places too strong an emphasis on beliefs, while ignoring other fac· tors involved in the reactions sighted people have to the blind.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “SOURCES OF DATA IN THIS STUDY”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The most difficult problem of this research has been to obtain va­ lid, reliable, and complete data on blind people and blindness agen· cies.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” I have analyzed the records and reports ofmany public and private organizations for the blind. Unfortunately. much of the information in these reports cannot be used for research purposes. ”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Next, I conducted nearly one hundred interviews with profes­sional workers in the field of work for the blind, including national leaders in this field; state commissioners for the blind; representa­tives of all major public and private organizations for the blind; experts in specialized areas such as braille, mobility, social and per­sonal services, employment, and rehabilitation; trustees and mem·bers of boards of directors of private organizations for the blind; and numerous rank-and-file workers who implement service programs. ”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In addition, I spoke with perhaps a hundred blind people to deter­ mine their beliefs concerning some matters about which I had ques­ tioned workers for the blind.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” I feel reasonably certain that through this sample I have encountered most of the situations, experiences, and sentiments of blind peoplewho are clients or former clients of agencies for the blind.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Finally. a great deal of my time in this project was spent visiting and observing the activities of agencies and programs for the blind.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In any discussion of blindness. it is essential to draw a distinction between those who are born blindand those whose blindness is acquired. The former are usuallytermed “the congenitally blind” and the latter “the adventitiouslyblinded,” or simply “the blinded.” I have restricted my analysis to the adventitiouslyblinded. ”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Summary and Conclusions”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE major thesis of this book has been that blindness is a learned social role.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “People whose vision fails will learn in two contexts the attitudes and behavior patterns that the blind are supposed to have, in their personal relationships with those with normal vision and in the organizations that exist to serve and to help blind people.”

Page 14, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The misconceptions of the seeing about the nature of blindness and its impact upon personality and behavior are expressed as expecta­ tions of the blind person’s behavior. When he encounters a sighted person, the blind man usuaJly feels that he must act in the way expected of him.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Some actually come to believe in these stereo­ types themselves and internalize them;”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the beliefs are a fact of life for people who are blind.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Blindness is also a condition that stigmatizes. The social identityof a man, indeed his whole personality, is spoiled when he is blinded”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A major component in the experience of being a blind man is defending the self from imputations of moral, psychological, and social inferiority.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The norms that govern the conduct of the ordinary relationship of everyday life depend enormously on vision. When one of the actors in an encounter is blind, the situation is infused with ambiguity and uncertainty. ”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The idiosyncratic responses of the see. ing to this situation contribute to the blind man’s socialization by reinforcing his conviction that he is different.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Finally, because of the very nature of his condition, a blind man must rely on his sighted companions for assistance in the most ordi· nary situations, but he is restricted in his ability to reciprocate.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Such encounters inevitably become relationships of social dependency.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My analysis shows that the blindness system, by which I mean the”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “total network of agencies, organizations and programs for the blind. caters to about one-quarter of aU people who are, according to ad­ ministrative regulations, blind.”

Page 16, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “These are the blind children who can be educated and the blind adults who can be employed. The system largely screens out the elderly, the unemployable. the uneducable. and the multiply-handicapped-in other words, the vast bulk of the blindness population.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When those who have been screened into blindness agencies enterthem, they may not be able to see at all or they may have serious difficulties with their vision. When they have been rehabilitated. they are all blind men. ”

Page 16, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “They have learned the attitudes and behavior pat­ terns that professional blindness workers believe blind people should have.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” He is told that he is “insightful” when hecomes to describe his problems and his personality as his rehabil­itators view them, and he is said to be “blocking” or .. resisting” when he does not. Indeed, passage through the blindness system is determined in part by his willingness to adopt the experts’ views about self. ”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Gradually, over time, the behavior of blind men comes to corre­ spond with the assumptions and beliefs that blindness workers hold about blindness, whether these beliefs follow the restorative or the accommodative approach.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” The restorative approach assumes thatblind people can lead independent and fulfilled lives in the outsideworld, but only if they first recognize and accept as final the fact that they are blind. The accommodative approach regards these ob­jectives as noble but unrealistic for most blind people. It holds thata more realistic objective is to provide environments to which blind people can accommodate with a minimum of effort. ”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Which of these approaches Is adopted by a blindness agency de· pends only partly on the theoretical preferences of its blindness workers; it also depends on political, economic, and sociological pressures that arise inside and outside the agency.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “One such pressure is created by the unconscious desire of many persons in the commun­ ity to avoid blind people by hiding them.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Agencies that acquiesce to this pressure are rewarded with the generous donations of a gratefu) public.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “many blindness workers gain their status in the field of work for the blind through experience rather than through professional training. The expertise acquired through experience is closely linked to one agency and may not be transferrable to another.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “he has little choice but to opt for the policy that is best for the agency, even when it may be detrimental to the clients.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The overpowering importance of the blindness system in the so. cialization of the blind who are in it is demonstrated by looking at the blind who Jive outside it. These people. particularly blinded vet· erans and the independent blind. fail to display the attitudinal and behavioral patterns that so many insist they should have because they are blind. This demonstrates not only the importance of blind· ness organizations as agents of the socialization of the blind; it also demonstrates that blind men indeed are made.”

Page 17, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The picture that emerges from my analysis is of a group of people who initially share in common only the fact that they have problems”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “of vision and eventually come to feel and behave in patterned, pre. dictable ways.”

Page 18, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “People who initially think of themselves as sighted people who have trouble seeing come to think of themselves as blind people who have residual vision. Blindness becomes the primary factor around which they organize their lives and in terms of which they relate to other people.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” My analysis suggests that such organizationscreate for blind people the experiences of being blind. Such organi­zations are not, as some have suggested, merely helpers of the blind that facilitate or change processes already occurring; rather, they are active socializing agents that create and mold the fundamental attitudes and patterns of behavior that are at the core of the experi­ence of being a blind man. ”

Page 18, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Some may regard as deplorable the fact that blindness agencies have so great an impact upon the very nature of the phenomenon of blindness in our society. I do not, for it suggests that this system has the potential of becoming a powerful tool for positive social change.”

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