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.


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.