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Discourse, Narrative and Agency: A Contribution of Local Stories to Disability Theory, Research and Professional Practice

The impetus for this study arose from a realisation that the post-structural concept of agency was relevant to disability studies. In locating this study as a contribution to the knowledge of disability and disablement, the initial chapters explore the theoretical genealogy of disability studies and the methodology for the study. In broad terms this has been a discursive and narrative research project, which sought to explore how discourse constituted the lives of six people with impairments and/or illness. Within this examination, specific attention was paid to those occasions in which the participants were able to take up alternative and preferred subject positions when they had been positioned in ways that removed or reduced their agency on account of their having an impairment and/or illness. The six people who participated in the study are introduced at the end of Chapter Four and the next three chapters provide an account of their accounts. Overall, the participants’ accounts of their experiences told how medical discourse positioned them in ways that removed their agency but not exclusively so. In contrast to medical discourse, disability rights discourses offered alternative subject positions because disablement is not constructed as an inevitable consequence of having an impairment and/or illness. In regard to the benefit of disability rights discourses for disabled people, two of the participants had been advantaged by the career opportunities available to them within the disability sector that arguably had been created by disability rights discourses. However, generally speaking, the participants’ accounts of their experiences showed that disability rights discourses were not the only discursive option for them. On those occasions in which the participants took up subject positions that afforded them agency, they were often calling on more than one discursive idea or practice, typically beyond both medical or disability rights discourse. The participants’ lives were more diverse and complex than the reproduction of any one singular discourse. Hence, even between just six people’s accounts, there was significant difference between how each person called on and negotiated discourse so as to take up subject positions that offered them agency. In considering the participants’ accounts, a number of generic storylines have been generated from the research process. In particular, these were: the negative impact of deficit discourse on disabled people’s lives, the advantages and limitations of disability rights discourses, the complex and person-specific processes of taking up subject positions that afford agency for the person, and the experience of silenced, subjugated and contradictory subject positions. These quite specific understandings about the processes of disablement for people who have impairments and/or illnesses, and their corresponding actions of agency, are discussed in more detail in the concluding chapter in regards to implications for future research, theory and professional practice.
Type of thesis
Arkwright, J. (2011). Discourse, Narrative and Agency: A Contribution of Local Stories to Disability Theory, Research and Professional Practice (Thesis, Doctor of Education (EdD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5434
University of Waikato
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