Disablism at Work. A Critical Discourse and Biographical Narrative Study of Blind and Partially Sighted People’s Professional Identities in the UK and Germany

Kotzur, Gerrit Sven (2018) Disablism at Work. A Critical Discourse and Biographical Narrative Study of Blind and Partially Sighted People’s Professional Identities in the UK and Germany. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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The thesis presents an investigation of blind and partially sighted people’s professional identities by analysing biographical narrative accounts of 23 participants from the United Kingdom and Germany. A Critical Discourse Studies approach is combined with a disability studies perspective. The study offers a novel angle for CDS insofar as the language use of so-called less powerful social actors is concerned that are considered part of the counter-discourse about disability and impairment. First-person narratives as well as disability have not been explored to a great extent in CDS, and participant-focused studies have received little intention in disability studies. Similarly, the role of the body has not been in the purview of most narrative study analyses.

The narrative interview data is analysed through the lens of evaluation to explore people’s emotions, the judgments of social actors and appreciations. Furthermore, it is demonstrated how the use of active and passive voice constructions contribute to a sense of agency and narrative ownership versus affectedness. Rhetorical strategies reveal what kind of discourse models the stories endorse, whether they comply with, rationalise or resist dominant reasoning. While these analytical categories draw on pre-existing frameworks, the actual lexico-grammatical and rhetorical strategies and discourse models were developed bottom-up and therefore represent a major contribution of the study. Hegemonic discourses and societal views of disability are discussed by drawing on findings from sociological studies, representations of disabled people in the mass media and a comparative corpus analysis of words related to blindness and visual impairment. The attention to linguistic detail provided here reveals note-worthy connections both between different linguistic means and rhetorical domains and between people’s personal, psycho-emotional experience and structural forms of disablism.

The results indicate that mainstream employers are often seen as unable to provide a fully supportive work environment. Managers’ negative attitudes range from open hostility to ignorance. Although not all employers harbour manifest disablist attitudes, it is argued that lack of knowledge and disinterest are systemic consequences of disablist thinking. This exposes disablism as a harmful yet latent ideology in the workplace. I argue that language has the power to inspire negative feelings such as fear and destructive reasoning in the form of self-blame. Overall, emotions turned out to play a key role in both employers’ reasoning, as far as they are reflected in the stories, and in the argumentative positions taken up by participants. On a more positive note, this research can help us understand how an individual’s economic security can contribute to their personal wellbeing and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Discourse-Historical Approach, Disability Studies, Visual Impairment, Employment, Resistant Discourse
Subjects: L900 Others in Social studies
N600 Human Resource Management
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2019 13:32
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 22:32
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/39780

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