Telling Disability: Identity Construction in Personal and Vicarious Narratives
This study examines the construction of disability identities in personal and vicarious narratives. Sociolinguistic research on narrative focuses largely on personal narrative (Schiffrin 1996); some studies claim that vicarious narratives lack coherence and evaluation (Labov and Waletzky 1967; Chafe 1994) and have no natural relation to the teller's identity (Norrick 2013). Research on health communication contributes to linguistic understandings of disability (Hamilton 1994; Ramanathan 2009); however, few studies explore disability discourse as its own area (cf. Al Zidjaly 2005). Taking an approach to disability discourse that emphasizes disability as practice, I analyze identity construction in narratives told by people with and without disabilities. I argue that vicarious narratives - which I define as narratives about someone else's lived experience - are productive sites for constructing personal identities.The analysis investigates narratives from a 16-hour corpus of video-recorded conversations among three participants with lifelong, mobility-related, physical disabilities; their able-bodied family, friends, and caregivers; and the able-bodied researcher. The analysis shows tellers displaying their individual disability identities through positions (Davies and Harre 1990; Bamberg 1997) taken up in response to able-bodied characters in storyworlds. I propose that telling vicarious narratives allows tellers to expand their repertoires of storyworlds beyond their own lived experiences. I demonstrate how one particular teller with a disability uses vicarious narratives about third-person characters to construct her personal disability identity.I adapt the term "the wise" (Goffman 1963) to apply to people without disabilities who, through social network ties to a person with a disability, are "wise to" disability practices and have a measure of acceptance in the disability community. I argue that these close ties allow able-bodied people to display their wiseness through a borrowing of epistemic rights with regard to disability discourse. I show that people with disabilities and the wise within their communities can co-construct shared disability identities. By defining certain able-bodied people as wise, this study reconsiders the role of people without disabilities in the disability community. It suggests that wise identities and shared disability identities provide avenues for exploring how identity is created within close communities.
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Nelson, James Lindemann (2000-09)A fascinating criticism of abortion occasioned by prenatal diagnosis of potentially disabling traits is that the complex of test-and-abortion sends a morally disparaging message to people living with disabilities. I have ...