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In/dependency, Interdependency and Resistance in the Lives of People with Learning Difficulties

Liz Ellis, University of Plymouth/ CDRN


This paper is based on my dissertation carried out for my one year Masters degree in social research. The research used a phenomenological paradigm to explore the lives of a small group of people who had learning difficulties living in a rural area. The original aim of the research was to see what positive impact if any, a rural environment had in contributing to the social inclusion of the participants. The use of unstructured interviewing techniques and development of individual narratives resulted in the research taking a different route. Whilst the research was not explicitly emancipatory or even participatory, the approach taken meant that the respondents effectively controlled the data production.

As the interviewing progressed, themes began to emerge of in/dependence and interdependence as well as stories of resistance and defiance of stereotypes. From the interview data, narratives were constructed and the main themes which arose from the interview process, were analysed. The respondents subverted their 'master status' of being 'learning disabled' by acting as carers, athletes and artists. They understood how the social care system colluded with employers to create opportunities for labour exploitation disguised as 'work experience'. The respondents demonstrated how quickly competence and autonomy can be eroded when there are moves from informal to formal care. Instances of interdependency and reciprocity were demonstrated in their everyday lives and relationships suggesting that a better focus for adult social care may not be the rhetoric of independent living but interdependent living which is more inclusive and equitable.

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