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Everyday Interaction Involving People with Severe Learning Disabilities: Taking a Critical Approach Dr Stephanie Brewster Disability Studies Conference 7 th September 2010. “Language is not only an instrument of communication or even of knowledge, but also an instrument of power”

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Everyday Interaction Involving People with Severe Learning Disabilities:Taking a Critical ApproachDr Stephanie BrewsterDisability Studies Conference7th September 2010

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“Language is not only an instrument of communication or even of knowledge, but also an instrument of power”

(Bourdieu 1977, p648).

what s the problem
What’s the problem?

AAC non-use

Intersection of research into

  • Interaction
  • Power relations
  • Disability
  • Learning disability
  • AAC
taking a critical approach
Taking a critical approach
  • to critically evaluate an aspect of society with the aim of improving it.
  • challenging commonly held assumptions, to expose situations of inequality and oppression
  • emphasis is on power.
  • Critical discourse analysis rests on the assumption that discourse is both influenced by, and influences power relations in society.
turn taking and topic control
Turn taking and topic control
  • Usually collaboratively achieved
  • But rights and obligations are not equally distributed (Fairclough)
  • Successfully taking a turn or raising a topic provides control of the immediate interaction. Someone unable or unwilling to do so lacks this immediate opportunity, and long term may be regarded as lacking influence.
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Mary: (Uses R hand to look in box)

Harry: Get the green one.Green. Green. (Pause) Green. (3 sec) Look for the green one. (Pause) Green one. Green. (Pause) Where’s green? (4 sec) The one you were holding before. That was green. (4 sec)

Mary: (Picks up white bead. Smiles)

Harry: (Looks at bead) That’s not

Mary: (Laughs. Holds bead towards Harry)

Harry: (Points to bead) Oh, that’s not green.

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Cheryl:Where’s the hairdressers? Where do you have your hair cut? Show me.

Mary: (points to item in book)

Cheryl: there you go!

Mary: (laughs)

Cheryl: and…where do we go…where do we go to buy your magazine? (looks at book, at Mary then at book) (3 sec) Where… (2 sec)

Mary: (points to item in book)

Cheryl: yes!

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Mary: (looks at and points to item in book)

Fran:Cheryl. (Pause) You know Cheryl. (Pulls M’s hand off book. Looks and points at another item) And who is this one? (2 sec)

Mary: (looks at and points to different item)

Fran: (looks at and points to same item as above.) This one

Mary: (looks at and points to item indicated by Fran)

Fran: Look at this one. Ruby

Mary: looks and points at CHERYL

Fran: (Moves book, pushes M’s hand aside) Who is this?

politeness
Politeness

Sarah: Claire.

Claire: yes.

Sarah: I’ve dropped it again

Claire: you’ve dropped it again. (picks it up)What do you say? You’re meant to say thank you.

asymmetry in the rules of discourse
Asymmetry in the rules of discourse
  • staff may demand/prompt the use of politeness vocabulary from residents but residents do not demand the use of politeness vocabulary from staff.
  • Paradoxically, staff may insist on politeness to achieve greater symmetry, through reciprocal use of such terms.

“When I ask you something I always say please, don’t I?”

conclusions
Conclusions

Interactions between residents and staff are characterised by asymmetries of :

  • power relations (social inequality)
  • individual communicative competence.

AAC intervention aims to enhance communicative competence, but this is not necessarily effective at reducing asymmetry of power relations.

Asymmetrical power relations inhibit AAC use and, conversely, lack of AAC use creates and maintains this power imbalance.

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AAC could transform existing power relations
  • Conversely, transformations in power relations could enable the flourishing of AAC.
  • provision of AAC is not on its own sufficient to ensure its use within discourse
  • existing discourse patterns contribute to the failure of AAC to become a functional and valuable method of communication
references
References
  • Bourdieu, P. (1977). "The economics of linguistic exchanges." Social Science Information 16(6): 645-668.
  • Brewster S (2007) “Asymmetries of Power and Competence and Implications for AAC: Interaction between adults with severe learning disabilities and their care staff”. Unpublished Ed.D. thesis, University of Birmingham
  • Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and Power. Harlow, Pearson Education.
  • Ng, S. H. and J. J. Bradac (1993). Power in Language; Verbal Communication and Social Influence. London, Sage.
  • Shakespeare, T. (2000). Help: Imagining Welfare. Birmingham, British Association of Social Workers and Venture Press.