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Disability, relationship, and the negotiation of loss

Abstract

Oppressive stereotypes of invalidity and tragedy have positioned loss and grieving as contested issues in the field of disability studies. Ascriptions of ‘denial’ are rejected by many disabled people, as a reductive medicalisation of their lived reality. For these and other reasons, this paper asserts that disabled people are afforded limited or awkward social spaces for grief, be it to do with social positioning, embodiment, or any other aspect of human experience. This is significant because grieving may have an important relationship with political mobilisation, both personal and collective. The paper presents autoethnographic material from the life of the second author, who has lived with quadriplegia for more than three decades. Using ideas from critical psychoanalysis it traces how political, relational and intrapsychic mechanisms constrain and sanction his expression of feelings of loss, contributing to a relational predicament of melancholic suspension, analogous to that attributed to subordinated racial groups. Here, one is forced to strive for assimilation into an unattainable, ideal social role, while simultaneously being alienated from one’s inner experience, with implications for both creativity and personal power. The paper concludes that, paradoxically, stereotypes are countered not by dissociation from grief, but rather the claiming of it.

  • disability
  • psychology

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. No data are available.

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