Author Archives: donna

Psycho-emotional disablism: Implications for clinical psychology (paper, 2010)

Reeve, D. (2010) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism: Implications for clinical psychology’, paper presented at Clinical Psychology seminar, Lancaster University, 1 March.

Paper given to a group of clinical psychology students at Lancaster University.

Psycho-emotional disablism and acts of (mis)recognition: Implications for professional practice (keynote, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism and acts of (mis)recognition: Implications for professional practice’, paper presented at 4th Cornwall Disability Research Network, Cornwall College, 29 October (keynote).

This key note was an extended version of the earlier NNDR paper. The academic giving the keynote was taken seriously ill and so I was asked to step in at short notice to deliver a paper that would be meaningful to the undergraduate students studying various vocational degrees in the health professions.

What can Agamben’s Homo Sacer offer to an analysis of contemporary psycho-emotional disablism (seminar, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘What can Agamben’s Homo Sacer offer to an analysis of contemporary psycho-emotional disablism’, paper presented at CeDR/ASS seminar, Lancaster University, 19 May.

This seminar paper captured the key findings from my PhD study and presented them to colleagues at Lancaster University.

Enabling or disabling practice?: Psycho-emotional disablism and acts of (mis)recognition within professional relationships with disabled people (paper, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘Enabling or disabling practice?: Psycho-emotional disablism and acts of (mis)recognition within professional relationships with disabled people’, paper presented at 10th Nordic Network on Disability Research, Nyborg, Denmark, 2-4 April.

Abstract

For many disabled people, the effects of impairment mean that health and welfare professionals are involved in their lives on a regular basis. Existing literature drawing on the experiences of disabled people has illustrated the extent to which these professional-disabled people relationships, with their inherently unequal power balance, can be characterised by behaviour which is dismissive, patronising and prejudiced. This paper will discuss examples of psycho-emotional disablism – a form of social oppression which operates along emotional pathways – which were revealed through an analysis of the experiential accounts of people with physical impairments talking about their relationships with a range of professionals.

The inherent power imbalance between professional and disabled client means that psycho-emotional disablism is always potentially in the background. The prevalence of negative images and prejudice about disability within society can influence professional practice; for example a pregnant disabled woman may be offered a termination rather than support because of the assumptions that disabled people are dependent and therefore not able to care for others. I draw on my research data to provide other examples of professional practice which reveal psycho-emotional disablism in operation and show the emotional and practical implications this had for the disabled person. I illustrate the way in which this source of psycho-emotional disablism can also continue to exert an influence on someone’s emotional well-being long after the professional relationship has ended. Examples are also provided of acts of resistance within these relationships which restored a degree of control and power to the disabled person.

I show how important it is that professionals are aware of someone’s ‘disability history’ in order to realise how the long-lasting effects of psycho-emotional disablism can disrupt subsequent relationships with professionals, even when no active disablism is present. Thus a well-meaning professional may interpret the reaction of a disabled person as pathological when in fact it is the result of past experiences of being patronised or devalued.

However there were also examples in my research of good professional practice and I discuss how relatively small actions can have a huge positive impact on the emotional well-being of the disabled person being supported.

Finally I show how better training of professionals to include an awareness of psycho-emotional disablism would mean that they themselves don’t become unwitting oppressors in the relationships with their clients. It is vital that professionals in the health and welfare fields are aware of psycho-emotional disablism and how it can impact on self-esteem and self-worth, if they are to work effectively with disabled people. In addition I reveal how it is possible to reduce/remove this aspect of disablism through attitudinal/behavioural changes which don’t need to cost money, an important consideration in the light of the current crisis in the UK in funding of health and social care services.

‘Sick or disabled?’: A discussion of the interaction between chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism (paper, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘‘Sick or disabled?’: A discussion of the interaction between chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism’, paper presented at Disability and Chronic Illness Workshop, University of the West of England, 30 January.

Abstract

Working from within a disability studies perspective, this paper uses the extended social relational definition of disablism (rather than disability) whereby:

‘Disablism is a form of social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on people with impairments and the socially engendered undermining of their psycho-emotional well-being.’ (Thomas, 2007: 73)

Like the social model of disability traditionally used within disability studies, this definition clearly recognises disabling barriers which operate at the structural/material level, affecting what people can do. However, in addition to the more usual public barriers faced by people with impairments, this definition also explicitly recognises barriers which operate at the psycho-emotional (personal) level. Thus someone may be prevented from doing something because of a flight of stairs (structural disablism) or because of the attitudes/stares of others (psycho-emotional disablism).

Disability studies has been criticised for failing to take account of the lived experience of impairment and in particular, for failing to represent adequately the experiences of people living with chronic illness. Similarly, there have been criticisms of medical sociology for neglecting the effects of disablism when discussing the lived experience of people with chronic illness.

In this paper I will discuss some of the issues which arise when considering the potential role of psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people with chronic illness. I will draw on the narratives of two women with MS and a man with RSD who took part in my doctoral research, to show the complexity of their lived experiences of chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism.

I show how psycho-emotional disablism is revealed within their accounts of dealing with health professionals and other people, and how it is exposed by the problematic relationships they have with themselves (internalised oppression) as they move between different subject positions such as being disabled, sick or well. In addition psycho-emotional disablism can happen when one is forced to occupy a particular position by others, for example when applying for disability benefits.

However one cannot simply analyse these examples through the lens of disablism alone – it is also necessary to take account of impairment and impairment effects as well as other facets of identity. This is particularly true in the case of chronic illness such as MS with unpredictable ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days; what are the consequences of being ‘disabled’ one day, but ‘able’ the next? I also show how chronic illness can be exacerbated by the experience of psycho-emotional disablism as well as impacting on how people can resist this ‘inner’ dimension of oppression.

Importantly, although someone might not see themselves as disabled, as the examples I discuss show, this does not mean that psycho-emotional disablism will also be absent from the lives of people with chronic illness.

Therefore, when looking at concepts of chronic illness, it is also necessary to take account of the concept of psycho-emotional disablism and vice versa – they do not exist in isolation but interact with each other in a complex manner.

Psycho-emotional disablism: A neglected dimension of disability? (keynote, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism: A neglected dimension of disability?’, paper presented at 3rd Cornwall Disability Research Network, Cornwall College, 27 November (keynote).

This keynote was addressed to a room full of disability studies people and undergraduates training in a range of health-related fields. My aim was to introduce the students in particular to a form of disablism which can be present in the relationships between health professionals and the people they are supporting – not something that usually emerges clearly from social model definitions of disability.

 

Negotiating Disability in Everyday Life: The Experience of Psycho-Emotional Disablism (PhD thesis, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) Negotiating Disability in Everyday Life: The Experience of Psycho-Emotional Disablism, PhD Thesis, Lancaster: Lancaster University.

Abstract

It has been recognised that disability studies has been excellent at theorising structural disablism which affects what people with impairments can do. However, disabling factors which affect people with impairments at the psycho-emotional level, have been relegated to the domain of personal trouble. Building on the ideas presented in Female Forms by Carol Thomas, this thesis has two strands: an empirical description of the complexity of psycho-emotional disablism and its effects on identity, coupled with an application of the work of Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life) to theorise this experience of psycho-emotional disablism.

At the centre of this qualitative study were ten disabled people who took part in a two-part narrative interview method and talked about their ‘experiences of disability’. The data was analysed in detail and revealed the complex interactions between structural disablism, psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects as well as ‘disability identity’. I show how psycho-emotional disablism can be divided into two distinct forms: direct psycho-emotional disablism which can happen within interpersonal interactions between disabled people and others and indirect psycho-emotional disablism which can occur as a consequence of the experience of structural disablism. I also consider how the experience of psycho-emotional disablism affects the different ways that people with impairments  identify or not as disabled, and how this has a temporal and spatial aspect as well as being impacted by impairment effects.

Agamben’s work on homo sacer is used to explain the existential insecurity associated with the experience of psycho-emotional disablism. The concept of a ‘zone of indistinction’ is extended to introduce psychic and economic zones as well as the more common spatial zone of indistinction. I demonstrate how these zones can be found in examples of (in)direct psycho-emotional disablism and suggest that the impaired body is an example of bare life.

Homo sacer, states of exception and zones of indistinction: What can the work of Agamben offer disability studies? (paper, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) ‘Homo sacer, states of exception and zones of indistinction: What can the work of Agamben offer disability studies?’, paper presented at 4th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 2-4 September.

Abstract

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, as part of his analysis of contemporary Western politics (Agamben, 1998), describes how the figure of homo sacer can be considered to be an outlaw or bandit; someone who is not simply outside the law and indifferent to it, but who has instead been abandoned by the law. Whereas Foucauldian approaches have been useful in understanding the ways in which technologies of power differentiate the abnormal from the normal, Agamben instead focuses on how the suspension of law (states of exception) can create zones of indistinction where homo sacer can be found. One good example of a zone of indistinction is that of Camp Delta set up to hold US ‘detainees’ (rather than ‘prisoners’) who are at the mercy of presidential decrees and the will of military personnel. The camp itself occupies an indistinct spatial zone because of its location in Guantánamo Bay – it is on Cuban soil, but outside the realm of Cuban law.

In this paper I will draw on narratives of disability experiences generated as part of my PhD to present some ideas about how these concepts of homo sacer and zones of indistinction can be used to understand some contemporary experiences of structural and psycho-emotional disablism.

Structural dimensions of disablism affect what disabled people can do; examples include barriers in the built environment or lack of information in accessible formats. I will show how flawed implementations of the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK lead to spatial zones of indistinction where disabled people find themselves (legally) both included and excluded at the same time. This is because of the unspecifiable ‘reasonable adjustments’ term in the Act which means that disabled people are at the ‘mercy’ of planners and architects as to how these adjustments are implemented. Although there are examples of excellent inclusive design, this is not guaranteed; so whilst a separate entrance for wheelchair users restores independence, it does not necessarily restore the disabled person’s self-esteem and dignity.

Finally I introduce the new concept of ‘psychic’ zones of indistinction to examine some examples of psycho-emotional disablism experienced by people with visible impairments. Within most parts of society it is considered rude to stare or call people names; however for many people with visible impairments this is a daily occurrence and can feel invalidating and humiliating. I suggest that these psychic zones of indistinction are created by the suspension of behavioural norms or ‘internal’ laws’. In addition, the disabled person is never certain of how the next stranger will react to them which reflects the way in which homo sacer is always ‘at the mercy of his fellow men’.

The red wedding dress and other stories: Intersections of psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects and gender (paper, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) ‘The red wedding dress and other stories: Intersections of psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects and gender’, paper presented at Subjectivity: International Conference, Cardiff University, 27-29 June.

Abstract

This paper draws on my PhD which explores the nature of psycho-emotional disablism – a form of social oppression which operates along emotional pathways – and the ways in which this affects the different ways that people with impairments identify (or not) as disabled.

I will discuss the experience of internalised oppression and prejudiced attitudes – examples of psycho-emotional disablism – and show the impact this had on one disabled woman’s subjectivity, as well as her emotional well-being. Although at times the reactions of others left her feeling vulnerable and exposed, she also gave examples of where she had created her own alternate subjectivities. These stories also revealed how psycho-emotional disablism was intertwined with impairment effects, structural disablism (e.g. environmental barriers) and other factors such as gender and age.

Finally I will briefly discuss these stories in the light of Braidotti’s concept of a ‘nomadic’ subject (1994, 2002) suggesting that this could provide a useful metaphor for examining the myriad ways in which people with impairments see themselves as ‘disabled’ or not, and how this is highly context dependent.

Homo sacer and zones of exception: Metaphors for the contemporary experience of disablism? (paper, 2007)

Reeve, D. (2007) ‘Homo sacer and zones of exception: Metaphors for the contemporary experience of disablism?’, paper presented at Disability, Discourse and Community Psychology: The 1st Seminar, Research Institute of Health and Social Change (RIHSC), Manchester Metropolitan University, 6 July.

Longer version of the paper presented at the NNDR conference earlier in the year.

I turned up at this conference and one of the speakers had failed to arrive – so I was asked if I could present something. Luckily I had the NNDR slides on a USB stick in my bag, and after 15 minutes of adding in some extra material and some kind soul printing out a copy of the original presentation notes for me, I gave an impromptu presentation!