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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Talking bodies, embodied talk: The discourse of a disability advisory committee

Pip J. Farrar.

Learning to communicate with, and foster participation by, people at the margins of civil society is critical for community development and social justice. Despite many attempts at inclusive approaches and to communicate across difference, all too often the emancipatory outcomes sought remain elusive. It appears that the emphasis on cultural diversity in discourse practices frequently leads to a superficial reading of difference that obscures power relations and upholds dominant cultural norms.

Focusing on the 'difference' of disability, the social model has been instrumental in changing civil debates about disability from bio-medically dominated agendas to discourses about politics, citizenship and participation. Distinguishing impairment from disability, it conceives the former to be the consequence of biology and the latter to be a cultural formation, the result of prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion. This rupture of the body from culture exiles the body from disability discourse. Post-structuralism, however, has made the body central to contemporary political and theoretical debate. From this perspective language is understood in terms of its effects. Language and knowledge is power. The body is conceived of as both an object of knowledge and a target for the exercise of power.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how the social model of disability and post-structural theories can further our understanding for communicating across difference in inclusive community planning. Drawing from a study of a community advisory committee on disability and utilizing excerpts from a discourse analysis of the committee meetings and member interviews show how these theoretical aspects are reflected in the discourse between non-disabled and disabled members. The presentation concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings.


Pip J. Farrar  (Canada)
PhD Candidate
Graduate Division of Educational Research Faculty of Education
University of Calgary

P.J. Farrar is a doctoral candidate in Education at the University of Calgary. Her research interests lie in educational and social contexts. Her doctoral research focuses on community development for social justice, and specifically on language, power, and the construction of difference.

  • Discourse
  • Social model of disability
  • Post-structural theory
  • Discourse analysis
  • Community development

(Virtual Presentation, English)