Dr. Elizabeth Townsend Fabricates a Social Justice Victim
Feb 18, 2012
On page 119 in Occupational Therapy Without Borders Professor Elizabeth Townsend discusses one of the ways she seeks to analyze occupational injustices against the mentally ill. Her approach is not just to rely on statistics, but to look to lived experiences of the mentally ill to see how individuals may fit or not fit the statistical data. She writes:
To critique the statistics (to know what they actually represent and leave out), I have also consulted the stories of people living with mental illness. The story of Meg in I Always Wanted To Be A Tap Dancer (a collection of women with disabilities talking about their lives) tells about the injustices Meg experienced in being denied her occupational dream of being a tap dancer.
Dr. Townsend then provided an extensive excerpt from Meg, the allegedly discriminated-against mentally ill aspiring tap dancer. Curiously, the excerpt mentioned nothing about a mentally ill tap dancer. This was odd because something so interesting should have been mentioned in the excerpt. I tried to find the book to learn more about Meg's story, but the nearest library copy was several hundred miles away. So, I ordered the book on Amazon.com. When the book arrived I read it and discovered why Dr. Townsend omitted any details about Meg's tap dancing experience. The reason nothing of the fascinating tale was mentioned in the excerpt is because Dr. Townsend made it up. It was a “tale” in the common meaning of the term: a narrative of imaginary events.
The academic fraud perpetrated by Dr. Townsend is that she wanted you to believe that she read the book, I Always Wanted To Be A Tap Dancer and truthfully reported its contents. But she did not read it. If she had, she would have known that Meg was not a tap dancer. Meg’s issue was that she was trying to fit in at a job where she felt her bouts with mental illness subjected her to a higher level of scrutiny from her colleagues and supervisors. If Dr. Townsend had read the book, or at least the back cover, she would have known that the title of the book came from the story of Sandra Dark, not Meg. And Sandra is blind, not mentally ill.
Far from being a victim of discrimination, Sandra loved her experience as a dancer. She wrote:
I got my gold medal and that was as far as I wanted to go. In the higher grades you have to dance on boxes and steps so that is where I recognized my limitations. I have enough trouble walking down steps, let alone tapping down them. I always wanted to be a tap dancer. I went as far as I wanted, and am happy with that. (page 28).
Notice she is not a victim of discrimination, but that she is "happy with" what she accomplished. What a radically different story.
Dr. Townsend’s trespass here is of course just a minor fraud. Although she did intend to deceive her readers by giving the impression that she had read Meg’s story, her conduct is more indicative of sloppiness than anything else. My main purpose in writing about it here is to show the reader the mental processes used by scholars of social justice.
Here you see that Dr. Townsend was looking for a victim. Scholars of social justice, or one of its offshoots such as occupational justice, are always on a hunt for victims. They always want to portray people as victims of society or of capitalism or of - of almost anything. They traffic in victimology. This was explained in a special issue on social justice in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, which said that achieving justice entailed using "moral language and passion that includes stories of injustice and oppression to develop political will and move people to action to redress disparities" (Braveman & Bass-Haugen 2009).
Dr. Townsend did have many other allegedly oppressed victims she could have picked from as she did cite two books containing stories of the mentally ill which she had already used to publish previous articles. But social justice scholars want a sensational victim to move people to action. And a mentally ill tap dancer who is denied her dream because of bigotry does make for a fascinating victim. Such a victim was too good to let go and so too good to bother checking if it were true.