Tagged: Foucault

Student Experiences of Disability and Social Networks in Higher Education

There has been a blogging hiatus here at Lewthwaite Industries, but perhaps with the best reasons. In May I submitted my corrections and in June I joined the pass list, submitting hardbound copies of my thesis in June (with thanks to the excellent Print Quarter in West Bridgford). In July I will be graduating and receiving my PhD. Whilst this has been taking place I’ve been working with Nottingham’s Human Factors Research Group, contributing to the MyUI project, a European project dedicated to developing adaptive interfaces for older users. I’ve also been developing publications from my thesis along with further research options on disability and social networks – but more on both of these developments later.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s time to introduce my thesis: “Disability 2.0: Student dis/Connections: a study of student experiences of disability and social networks on campus in higher education”. Here’s the abstract, a slightly expanded version is included on my ‘research’ pages above:

For many young people, social networks are an essential part of their student experience. Using a Foucauldian perspective, this qualitative study explores the networked experiences of disabled students to examine how dis/ability difference is ascribed and negotiated within social networks. Data comprises 34 internet-enabled interviews with 18 participants from three English universities. Accessible field methods recognise participant preferences and circumstances. Data is analysed using discourse analysis, with an attention to context framed by activity theory. Disabled students’ networked experiences are found to be complex and diverse. For a proportion, the network shifts the boundaries of disability, creating non-disabled subjectivities. For these students, the network represents the opportunity to mobilise new ways of being, building social capital and mitigating impairment.

Other participants experience the network as punitive and disabling. Disability is socio-technically ascribed by the social networking site and the networked public. Each inducts norms that constitute disability as a visible, deviant and deficit identity. In the highly normative conditions of the network, where every action is open to scrutiny, impairment is subjected to an unequal gaze that produces disabled subjectivities. For some students with unseen impairments, a social experience of disability is inducted for the first time. As a result, students deploy diverse strategies to retain control and resist deviant status. Self-surveillance, self-discipline and self-advocacy are evoked, each involving numerous social, cognitive and technological tactics for self-determination, including disconnection. I conclude that networks function both as Technologies of the Self and as Technologies of Power. For some disabled students, the network supports ‘normal’ status. For others, it must be resisted as a form of social domination.

Importantly, in each instance, the network propels students towards disciplinary techniques that mask diversity, rendering disability and the possibility of disability invisible. Consequently, disability is both produced and suppressed by the network.

I have a huge list of people to thank for insight and support over the course of my doctoral study – I also have a substantial bibliography (although I’m sure this can only get larger). Danah Boyd already maintains a substantial bibliography of social networking research, and there are significant accessibility reading lists freely available through several institutions – however, I will be developing a ‘disability’ and ‘network’ specific library here at 32 Days over the coming weeks, as this is a literature I’ve received a lot of requests about and I’m sure it will serve other researchers developing the field. I’m currently looking into the best ways to share my work whilst observing copyright obligations for the publications I have in train. Once again, more on that later.

The Impossible Prison

At the end of October I went to the opening of the Impossible Prison, an exhibition curated by Alex Farquharson,  Director of Nottingham Contemporary. The exhibition is located within the Galleries of Justice Police Station, Nottingham, an atmospheric and provocative space in its own right.

16 international artists become ‘inmates’ in the Impossible Prison, inspired by Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault. The exhibition explores power, control and surveillance, increasingly a part of all our lives. The exhibition is free and runs until the 14th of December and comes highly recommended!

Those of you who scrutinise this blog regularly may recall a short piece I wrote about Mona Hatoum’s “Wheelchair” sculpture, a photo of which was used for the front cover of Tom Shakespeare’s book “Disability Rights and Wrongs”.  If you are interested in seeing Hatoum’s work first hand the Impossible Prison is a must. Her 1993 piece “Incommunicado” is exhibited in one of the Impossible Prison’s claustrophobic cells.  As with “Wheelchair” – this work attends to the institutional furniture of the hospital and home. To paraphrase the Tate (where an image of the sculpture can also be viewed):

“Incommunicado” is a bare steel sculpture made of an infant’s cot. The springs have been replaced by tautly stretched, fine cheese wire. The cold, hard, metal form of the cot has been honed down to its most bare and chilling structure. The potentially lethal wires anticipate acute pain. “Incommunicado” is a place where speech is no longer possible, a reminder of an infant’s inability to articulate its needs by any means other than a scream. It is also a metaphor for the plight of many political prisoners who are incarcerated and tortured in places where their voices cannot be heard. Here a relationship of ‘parent’ state to citizen-‘child’ is presented as cruel and abusive rather than warm and loving, murderous rather than nurturing.

I found this work and many others within the Impossible Prison very powerful. And, given the current turmoil surrounding the forthcoming extradition of Gary McKinnon to the United States, this exhibition will have strong resonance for some within Disability Studies.

A series of free Talks and Seminars have also been organised in conjunction with the exhibition.

  • Today (Monday 24th November 6 – 8 pm) Ken Starkey delivers the third talk in the series organised by Nottingham Contemporary – ‘Stranger in a Strange Land: Michel Foucault in the Business School’.
  • On Monday 3rd December, 6pm – 8pm, Eyal Weizman will talk about ‘The Architecture of Occupation in Israel.Palistine’.  Both talks will be given at Biocity, Nottingham.
  • Finally, Erwin James will talk about ‘Prison Today’ on Monday 8th of December at the Galleries of Justice themselves.

To book a place and to find out more about these events go to: www.nottinghamcontemporary.org.