From ability to (dis)ability
: a bourdieudian analysis and case study of the experiences of young adults in utilising post-16 educational provision in Northern Ireland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Young (dis)abled people are significantly under-represented throughout further and higher education settings. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory of habitus, capital and field, this study explores the practices of domination and oppression which have prevented young (dis)abled people from progressing to third-level education on the same basis as non-(dis)abled people. Twenty young people with hearing impairments and visual impairments were interviewed about their educational experiences both in the education system and within familial and peer networks. In addition, thirty-one interviews were conducted with third- level education providers, policymakers and non-governmental organisations. This thesis has two aims. Firstly, to identify and explore the diversity of ways in which young (dis)abled people have both managed and responded to the negative practices of power and domination they inevitably encountered. Secondly, to examine the ways in which key stakeholders have understood and interpreted their duty to promote equality of opportunity, access and inclusion for (dis)abled people in light of recent equality and (dis)ability legislation. This study emphasises the journey form ability to (dis)ability that young (dis)abled people experience in their quest for educational achievement. The thesis argues that the journey from ability to (dis)ability is predicated on a socially constructed ability binary which locates ‘ability’ in the minds and bodies of a non-(dis)abled majority and designates particular skills and characteristics as ‘meritorious’. The ambiguities of‘inclusion’, ‘equality’ and ‘support’ are highlighted and critiqued for their extensive failure to challenge taken for granted discourses. The limited applicability of current equality theorising to (dis)ability is problematised and the term ‘dis-equality’ is introduced as a means of engaging with the juxtaposition of (dis)ability and equality. This thesis argues that Bourdieu’s understanding of practices of power and privilege can be usefully applied to the case of (dis)ability.
Date of AwardJul 2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorEithne McLaughlin (Supervisor)

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