Celebrating a classic text: The Cloak of Competence revisited
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

Celebrating a classic text: The Cloak of Competence revisited

David O’Driscoll Visiting research fellow, Centre for Learning Disability Research, University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire, England
Jan Walmsley Researcher, Open University Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum Partnerships, Open University, Milton Keynes, England

This article celebrates one of the most important books in the history of intellectual disability, The Cloak of Competence: Stigma in the Lives of the Mentally Retarded, by the American anthropologist Robert Edgerton. First published in 1967, and revised and updated in 1993, the book is based on long-term research into more than 100 people with intellectual disability who had left a Californian institution in 1961. Edgerton was interested in their everyday lives, activities, thoughts and emotions at a time when there was little organised support outside of hospitals, and considerable doubt that people could survive in the community. Edgerton interviewed the 15 individuals up to 1982, 20 years after he began his research. He developed several concepts, including the ‘cloak of competence’ and the ‘role of benefactors’.

An important aspect of the book is the attention Edgerton pays to the voice of people themselves. This makes this serious academic book full of life-affirming, tragic, heartbreaking, moving and funny anecdotes. Its accounts of everyday struggles would be recognised by professionals even today

Learning Disability Practice. doi: 10.7748/ldp.2018.e1933


O’Driscoll D, Walmsley J (2018) Celebrating a classic text: The Cloak of Competence revisited. Learning Disability Practice. doi: 10.7748/ldp.2018.e1933

Peer review

This article has been subject to double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software



Conflict of interest

None declared

Published online: 20 September 2018

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