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Struggles online over the meaning of disability

Nicholas Cimini, University of Sheffield

Powerpoint presentation


Bakhtin's dictum that 'a unified truth demands a multiplicity of consciousnesses' (Bakhtin 1984: 78-81) seems remarkably prescient in this 'globally connected age'. At a time when the punk ethic seems to prevail online, and Wikipedia and blogging means that anyone with access to the internet can enter into public deliberation, it is worth considering the potential for mass communication systems to affect meaningful changes in the way that disability is theorised.

Based on the findings of qualitative research, conducted using a novel combination of online data collection techniques, the paper explores competing interpretations of disability from the vantage point of an approach towards language analysis that emanates from the work of the Bakhtin Circle. It will be shown that, suitably revised and supplemented, elements of Bakhtinian theory provide powerful tools for understanding intersubjective relations online and changes in the notion of disability. It will also be shown that, whilst activists in the disabled people's movement have managed to affect modest changes to the way that disability is conceived, both online and in the 'real world', through the appropriation and reaccentuation of hegemonic discourses, there remains a great deal still to be achieved in terms of combating discrimination and overcoming prejudicial assumptions about disabled people.

The study of these changing discourses online enables us to better appreciate the struggles faced by disabled people and the opportunities open to them. It opens a window on interdisciplinary approaches towards the study of disability and - specifically - those approaches emanating from the work of the Bakhtin Circle; allowing us to think about the limitations of the Bakhtinian approach, whilst simultaneously affording us a sophisticated perspective on the potency of the Circle's contribution to critical theory.

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