Programme Grant Disability: Negotiating Normality. Autonomy, Agency and Accountability in the lives of disabled persons

Time period: 2010-01-01 to 2015-12-31

Project leader: Mårten Söder

Funder: Forte

Type of award: Research environment

The situation of disabled persons has undergone important changes over the last decades, legally as well as institutionally and discursively. An important dimension of these changes is a turn from viewing disabled persons as objects to seeing them as subjects. The emphasis in disability politics today are very much on autonomy, the right and duty for disabled persons handle and steer their own lives. In the proposed programme we want to investigate the meaning and implications of these changes from a perspective where the focus is on how disabled persons are negotiating the interpretations of their impairment. Autonomy has traditionally been viewed as a personal characteristic. In order to avoid such an assumption we will instead focus on agency. Agency is acting intentionally in order to influence other persons or things. Autonomy can be seen as a special instance of agency in the sense that an autonomous agent is able to realize his/her intentions without being interfered by others. Agency is not a property of a person. It is situated and attributed in social situations and should therefore be analyzed contextually. Disabled persons are agents in negotiating normality. The object of such negotiations is how the impairment and its implications should be interpreted, what norms should apply and how breaking the norms should be evaluated. The resources that can be mobilized in such negotiations are determined by the context, including the actor’s positions on relevant power dimensions, like class, gender, and ethnicity. We will focus on how agency is accomplished in negotiating the meaning and implications of the impairment at three different levels: on the macro level in forming political discourse, at an institutional level in the relations between staff and residents in group homes for intellectually disabled persons and on an interactional level in how normality is negotiated by women and men with different impairments in social relations.