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Constructions, perceptions and expectations of being disabled and young. A critical disability perspective.

Slater, Jenny (2013) Constructions, perceptions and expectations of being disabled and young. A critical disability perspective. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis takes a critical disability studies (CDS) approach to explore the concepts of ‘youth’ and ‘disability’. I ask how normative conceptions of youth and disability impact upon the lives of young disabled people and consider how, as youth and disability researchers, we can position young disabled people as active and politically resilient. I argue that thinking about youth, disability and lived-experiences of disabled youth, can teach us less oppressive ways of conceptualising disability and youth, through the notion of becoming-in-the-world-together (Shildrick, 2009). The method/ology I employ is transdisciplinary, postconventionalist (Shildrick, 2009) and auto/ethnographic. Following Hughes, Goodley and Davis (2012) I utilise theories as and when I see them fit for my political purpose. The thesis is divided into two sections. Section One theorises and contextualises youth and disability; whereas Section Two introduces fieldwork and contains three chapters of analysis. There were three contexts to fieldwork. The first two involve using a variety of creative methods to ask two groups of young disabled people in northern England for their utopian, best-ever future world ideas. I call this The Best-Ever Future Worlds Project. The third research context is a three month ethnography with young people involved in the Independent Living Movement (ILM) in Iceland. The stories, ideas and theorisations of all these young people help me to question, queer and crip discourses of youth, adult and disability. Findings highlight the ableism of adulthood and the falsity of conceptualising youth as a time of becoming-independent-adult. I argue it is more useful, inclusive and representative of young people’s lives to consider youth, not as a time of becoming-independent, but a time of expanding networks of interdependency. We see dangerous relationships between disability, youth and sexuality functioning to posit disabled people’s bodies as a) childlike (Johnson, Walmsley, & Wolfe, 2010), b) asexual (Garland-Thomson, 2002; Liddiard, 2012), and c) the property of others, to be subject to intervention (Barton, 1993; McCarthy, 1998). The importance of questioning normative discourses of disability and youth for young disabled people therefore becomes clear. I argue this has to take place both inside and outside academia. Reconceptualising youth and disability requires intersectional approaches to research, transdisciplinary conversations, and the development of spaces in which to be ‘critically young’.

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