Performing the label "LD": An ethnography of United States undergraduates with learning disabilities
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis ethnographic project used participant-observation and Life History Interviews to gather data on U.S. undergraduate students with learning disabilities (LD), including dyslexia and attention deficit disorders (ADD). The project focuses on issues concerning the political economy, personal and collective agency, social labeling theory, and medicalization. I argue that performance theory must be integrated with social labeling theory in order to provide a full consideration of context and agency. Information on prevalence and demographics, and on historical context is provided. This includes an overview of key American values and processes of medicalization, normalization, and militarization. The interrelationship between military actions and medical research on disabilities is foregrounded. A history of the development of the diagnostic categories and procedures and of commodification of LD is presented. The history of the Civil Rights movement for Americans with disabilities is reviewed, as are legal cases resulting from the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I describe framings and explanatory models of LD. These include media representations and other lay models; and medical, moral, and sociogenic models. I highlight the culturally constructed nature of LD. Medications and presumed biological origins of the disabilities are reviewed and critiqued. Diagnostic procedures (i.e., processes of gatekeeping and social labeling) and relevant tests (including IQ tests) are described and critiqued for each subcategory. I describe diagnosis by prescription in the case of ADD, referring specifically to Ritalin and Adderall. I examine students' personal understandings and framings of their diagnosed disabilities, and how these inform coping strategies and tactics. I incorporate performance theory and of "passing" as a form of identity management into this discussion. I describe the roles and expectations of professors, communications and negotiations between students and professors, and specific coping strategies and tactics of labeled students. I describe how they involve "education management groups" involving family, peers, professors, and service providers, to help them succeed. Sociolinguistics surrounding these disabilities are also explored.
Degree ProgramGraduate College