The medical reshaping of disabled bodies as a response to stigma and a route to normality

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Abstract

Disabled people are said to experience stigma because their embodied presence in the world does not fit with how others interact and use their bodies to be social participants. In response they can turn to medical procedures, such as surgery or physiotherapy, in order to reshape their bodies to more closely approximate norms of social interaction and embodiment. This paper explores how medicine plays a role in attempts to be recognised by others as normal and acceptable by minimising disability. It will do so via a focus on disabled young people, in order to explore how their emerging identities and aspirations for the future influence how they think about their bodies, what normality means and their participation in multiple activities that work on their bodies. The paper draws from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) project that used a range of qualitative research methods with a group of disabled young people. The project explored ways in which participants actively worked on their bodies to be more normal and examined the disciplinary and agency dynamics involved in this work.

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