Digital disability discourses: User-generated content, identity and resistance

Diane Dolphin, University of Rhode Island


The Internet and new digital media can both open up access to new public spaces, and further disable and exclude people with physical, intellectual, cognitive and psychiatric disabilities. Through user-generated content posted on video aggregator sites such as YouTube and social networking sites such as The Icarus Project, people with disabilities have created discourses that construct individual and community identities, and challenge dominant medical, capitalist and charity disability discourses within power / knowledge structures such as the psychiatric, medical and disability systems, and mainstream media. These users' discourses challenge societal constructs of disability as a static state of incapacity, incompetence, and powerlessness. They also challenge the societal construct of citizenship as the privilege of the "normal, competent citizen." Online disability communities can also reinforce categorization and exclusion by enabling and constraining discourses among members and creating community identities that reinforce totalizing constructs of disability. ^ Post-structuralism is a useful model for discourse analysis of people with disabilities, capturing individualized, fluid experiences of impairment, disability and identity. The model dissolves boundaries between impairment / disability, reconciles subjective experiences of impairment with those of societal disablement, and explores the impact of dominant and alternative discourses upon individual identity. It also builds bridges between those with disabilities and others who experience societal oppression, and across scholarly disciplines and political movements. Foucauldian analysis can theorize societal influence and power relations in the construction of subjective identities, and examine how communities construct new knowledge / power relations as they resist dominant knowledge / power structures.^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Health Sciences, General|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Diane Dolphin, "Digital disability discourses: User-generated content, identity and resistance" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1491454.