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Disability Category in the Public Sphere (March 24, 2020)

On March 24, 2020, a joint seminar was held at the International Laboratory for Social Integration Research and the Department of General Sociology of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Higher School of Economics. Volha Verbilovich, Master of Sociology and Lecturer for the School of Media, presented a report on her dissertation entitled “Disability Category in the Public Sphere”, which performed under the guidance of the Head of the Laboratory, PhD, professor of the Department of General Sociology E.R. Iarskaya-Smirnova.

How is the category of disability constructed in modern public discussions and media publications? What discursive conventions today dominate the public discourses on disability? These and other issues related to research were discussed during a joint meeting.
 

The dissertation research analyzes the sociocultural patterns of the disability category as a discursive construct of the modern public sphere in the post-Soviet cultural context. The research question focuses on how the meanings and spaces of public conversation about disability are constructed in modern Russia in the last two decades. It is shown how the current revision of the J. Habermas and H. Arendt classical concepts of the public sphere can complement disability studies in the paradigm of the discursive model of disability. The blurring boundaries of public, private and intimate and the role of multiple publics with diverse modes of manifestation of the category are considered. The research reveals the growing importance of scandal as a discursive event and the space of production of disability meanings in the public sphere. The conceptualization of the category of disability is reinforced by the empirical data - expert interviews, case study of public scandals (2006-2017), analysis of media representations and narratives of people with disabilities. 

The author uses the informants’ language and meanings to identify the key conventions of a public conversation about disability, which, according to experts, have undergone significant changes over the past 20 years: cliches in institutional discourses, flexibility of definitions or withdrawal of any fixed convention (when disability is not considered as a prior resource for the identity project) in socio-cultural projects, autobiographies and narratives of persons with disabilities in social media.