Amplifying Disabled Identities: Invisible Disabilities in Personal Independence Payment Assessments and Appeals

Murray, Alexandra Harriet Elisabeth (2022). Amplifying Disabled Identities: Invisible Disabilities in Personal Independence Payment Assessments and Appeals. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines how legal processes in the administration of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are implicated in the construction of disabled identities and the elicitation of performances of disabled identities. To answer this, I highlight how invisible disabilities and fluctuating conditions make up the majority of disabilities, despite wider understandings assuming that disability is physical, stable, and visible. By examining the disparity between understandings of disability and the lived reality, I show how legal processes are actively involved in shifting the borders of disability.

In order to demonstrate how disabled identities are created within the assessment and tribunal processes, I have developed a material-discursive framework that I call amplification. I blend aspects of new materialism and performativity to build a tool to examine the spaces generated by the PIP processes. I have used amplification to examine existing textual sources and new qualitative data on PIP assessments and appeals, to create a more detailed picture of how disabled identities are created and changed by the UK welfare state. The findings of this thesis show that there are different material-discursive factors that contribute to the constitution of disabled identities, resulting in those identities being situationally contingent and changing over time. Amplification also incorporates the significant role that conscious performances play in the development of disabled identities.

Using amplification to examine PIP demonstrates that there is a subversive potential within these processes, to remake disability in a more inclusive way. By highlighting that legal processes are active agents in the production (and change) of disabled identities, I argue that an acknowledgement of the diversity of disability is essential for ensuring that effective decision-making is deployed at all stages and to effectively support disabled people to participate in legal processes when they are required to contest their PIP award.

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