Scotland Looks Differently at Disabilities in Camphill

Cosmopolita Scotland-Disabilities Camphill 1

The Camphill Movement is a social initiative, which we have discussed before in Cosmopolita Scotland. In this article, Dominic Corbett introduces the theoretical basis of the movement and gives his opinion on some of the innovative ideas that Camphill has brought to the field of education for people with learning disabilities and special needs.


Dominic Corbett

In Scotland – the birthplace of the Camphill Movement – it is common to see people with disabilities, both physical and mental, engaging in everyday life. Issues faced by those with disabilities are relatively well recognised and catered for (1) in this country and, in general, attitudes are inclusive and accepting. There is still much which remains to be improved, but much has already been achieved.

The Camphill Movement is an initiative for social renewal based on the philosophies of anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner. Camphill communities consist of residential homes, day care and schools which provide education, employment and support to the daily lives of people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and other special needs.

The Camphill movement was founded in 1939 by a group of Austrian political refugees, led by (2) paediatrician Karl König. A fundamental idea of the movement was the emphasis on community and shared living. König sought to realise Steiner’s ‘Fundamental Social Law’.

“In a community of people working together, the well-being of the community is greater the less the individual worker claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has done and the more he makes these over to his fellow workers. Similarly he allows his own needs to be met out of the work done by others.” Steiner’s Fundamental Social Law

Comparing Ideologies

To some, Steiner’s ‘Fundamental Social Law’ may bear similarities to the communist ideology; however, there are some essential differences. The importance and freedom of the individual (especially in the cultural sphere) are not diminished but rather enhanced. Differences are celebrated and it is recognised that there is a part of us which is equal; therefore, people must be treated equally but not necessarily the same. The common identity and sense of purpose is possible due to the relatively small size of the communities and the common ideals of the co-workers who have chosen to live and work in the community.

[cml_media_alt id='4910']Labelling by Alison McDonald and Leo Brunvoll[/cml_media_alt]
Labelling by Alex, Alison McDonald and Leo Brunvoll

In state-run schools and other institutions, there seems to be an ever-growing culture of ‘labelling’. Whilst this can be helpful for practical reasons – for example, segmenting pupils by level of ability at maths – it limits expectations and makes it harder for people with learning difficulties to overcome their challenges. Someone who is ‘moody’ may be labelled as having bi-polar disorder, or a child finding it hard to sit still may be labelled ADHD and given drugs indefinitely. In our fast-paced culture, time is not always taken to find out the root cause (3). It could be that the child feels neglected, has a high-sugar diet, plays many computer games and doesn’t get out enough or simply needs clearer boundaries. It is easy to get caught up in labels and diagnoses and forget to see the person in question. The Camphill approach recognises that someone is not a lesser human being because of their challenges.

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König saw the need for a sympathetic and supportive environment in which those with special needs felt accepted and were able to develop self-confidence in their own lives. Working also provided a sense of identity and value for those living in Camphill. The rhythms and rituals – whether they were celebrating seasonal festivals or setting the table every mealtime – provided a sense of security and routine. König saw such a community as a reflection of Steiner’s idea of ‘Social Threefolding’: human rights in political life, freedom in cultural life (art, science, religion, education, the media, etc) and associative cooperation in economic life.

Society’s Changing Perspective

When Camphill was first founded, people with special needs were generally seen as being ‘sub-human’ and described as being ‘feeble minded’ and ‘defective’. As a result, they were often sent to long stay institutions where they were frequently locked up, abused and received substandard care. It was only during the 1970s that these institutions began to shut down and the last of these long stay institutions closed in the early 2000s.
Fortunately, ideals have changed for the better and standards of life for people living with disabilities have improved significantly since the Camphill movement was founded. Could it be that the Camphill movement has played a part in changing policy and public opinion on the disabled?

There is much to be said for König’s view that everyone contains a healthy inner personality (sometimes called the ego), regardless of outer characteristics. A disability could then be seen as a mask over a person’s individuality, rather than a disease rendering them worthless and unable to make a full contribution to society. Camphill life is holistic in principle, as the physical, mental and emotional are each of great importance. König held the belief that being ‘handicapped’ had a special meaning for each individual, and it was then the role of the school or community to educate, nurture and develop the essential self.


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Camphill at a Glance

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Today Camphill is a worldwide movement with more than 100 Camphill communities in over 20 countries across Europe, North America, Southern Africa and Asia. Scotland is home to 11 such communities which support upwards of 500 people, around two thirds live in the community while the others come on a day care basis. They offer care and support across the age range from Kindergarten right through to homes for the elderly.

Find out more at Camphill Scotland and Camphill Worldwide.



See our previous article which explores how one Camphill community works in practice, and for a discussion of some of the questions surrounding Steiner’s theories.

Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) Catered for

  • Definition: (vtr phrasal verb) to provide.
  • Example: “Issues faced by those with disabilities are relatively well recognised and catered for in this country” “Los problemas a los que se enfrentan las personas discapacitadas están relativamente bien reconocidos y provistos en este país“.
  • Translation: (vtr) proveer.
  • Comment: Pay attention to the use of this verb in the passive form.

(2) Led by

  • Definition: (v) to be in command of; direct.
  • Example: “A group of Austrian political refugees, led by (2) paediatrician Karl König”. “Un grupo de refugiados políticos austríacos, liderado por el pedagogo Karl König“.
  • Translation: (v) liderar, dirigir, conducir.
  • Comment: Often used for the teaching of workshops, conferences, team research, etc.

(3) Root cause

  • Example: “Issues faced by those with disabilities are relatively well recognised and catered for in this country” “Los problemas a los que se enfrentan las personas discapacitadas están relativamente bien reconocidos y provistos en este país“.
  • Translation: (v) la causa estructural [literal la raíz de la causa].
  • Comment: Be careful in the Spanish translation of this compound word it might sound redundant.



Contributors to this article:

Author: Dominic Corbett.

Editor: Alex Owen-Hill.

Proofreader: Alex Owen-Hill.

Use of English for Spanish-speakers: Jordi Albacete.


Photo of Camphill Community at Botton Village by Ken Crosby

Autor: Dominic Corbett

My name is Dominic Corbett third year Physics and Music Student at Edinburgh University. I have a passionate interest in environmental, social justice, multiculturalism and in particular the new media projects in post independent referendum Scotland.

Me llamo Dominic Corbett y estudio el tercer curso de Física y Música en la Universidad de Edimburgo. Soy un apasionado de la justicia medioambiental y social, del multiculturalismo y en concreto de los nuevos proyectos de medios en el postescenario del referéndum sobre la indepencia escocesa.

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