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"Half of my friends don’t even see me as disabled": What can field, capital and habitus reveal about disability, inclusion and exclusion?

Theo Blackmore, Plymouth University


This paper presents the findings of a 3-year PhD thesis bringing the work of Pierre Bourdieu to the field of Disability Studies. I will present some conclusions from my thesis, which explored the experiences of disability and inclusion for fifteen adults living in the South West of England. The study was designed within the interpretive paradigm, and sought to capture the experiences and interpretations of the participants. In fulfilling this ambition it became necessary to create a 'fit-for-purpose' research method, by bringing together Bourdieu's theory of practice with notions from social capital and social network theories. I used an interpretive interview process, employing a Grounded Theory analytical method, to interview the participants, all of whom are described as having physical impairments.

This work adds to our understandings of disability and inclusion by revealing the contextual nature of both. I present clear instances where the research participants' feelings of disability disappear entirely, and moments where the participants feel more, or less, included. Disability is revealed neither as a static medical condition, nor as a set of environmental barriers created by oppressive non disabled people. This paper proposes that access to social, cultural and economic capitals can help an individual to resist the dominant medicalised disability discourse, which attempts to steer people with impairments into Disability World settings. These capitals can help the individual to enter, or remain in, the mainstream world, be employed, engage in an active social life, and live in a place of his or her choosing. The participants in this study with little access to capital resources make fewer lifecourse transitions, have fewer opportunities to exercise personal agency, and spend more time in Disability World settings, than those with access to greater capital resources. The individuals in this study are revealed as both personally agentic and simultaneously influenced by the structural forces at play.

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