Being researchers with the label of learning difficulty: An analysis of talk in a project carried out by a Self-Advocacy Research Group

Williams, Val (2002). Being researchers with the label of learning difficulty: An analysis of talk in a project carried out by a Self-Advocacy Research Group. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e80d

Abstract

This thesis examines the talk-in-interaction in an inclusive research project carried out by four people with the label of learning difficulty. They set out to see whether other people in similar positions shared their feelings about labelling, which they perceived as part of the social oppression of being a service user, a less-than-full member of society, restricted by dominant and naturalised discourses about Learning Difficulty. Through a close analysis of the talk, this work characterises and describes the research activity which they undertook. The analytic method draws on elements of conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis, and examines identity work as a matter of local interactional business.

Inclusive research as exemplified by this project is shown to be a new and distinct type of activity, drawing on academic models, but also creating its own parameters, through its essential link with the self-advocacy movement. The discourses of resistance and self-reliance are a necessary backdrop to this type of research activity, which springs from strong personal and collective feelings about injustice. Distinctive features include the open nature of meaning-making, blurring of the distinction between researcher and researched, and the working up of a shared identity. Further, the supported nature of the work is critically examined. Reflexive analysis reveals some discursive strategies to support self-advocacy talk and research, and explores the dilemmas of power and ownership.

It is concluded that members did in fact address the social problem from which they started, by the very act of doing research. In reclaiming interactional rights, they challenged notions about their own rights to knowledge, and their presumed incompetence as people with learning difficulties. The talk not only reflected the instability of meanings within the world of Learning Difficulty, but members also contributed to these debates, by taking on the right to define themselves.

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