Resisting having learning disabilities by managing relative abilities

Chris McVittie, Karen Goodall, Andrew McKinlay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accessible summary:

• People who attended a community centre for people with learning disabilities talked to researchers about the centre, their school and personal experiences.
• The researchers were interested in what the people in the study said about learning disabilities.
• This study found that people who attended the centre compared their abilities to those of others around them to make sense of who they are.
• People in the study presented themselves positively by describing their abilities in comparison to other people.


Previous research has shown that identities and the attributes from which identities are inferred are negotiated within social interaction and language. The identity of having learning disabilities is commonly associated with ascriptions of lesser abilities than other people, and in turn might be inferred from such abilities. This study examines how individuals, potentially ascribed with an identity of having learning disabilities, discursively manage the ascription of abilities and disabilities relative to other people. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with eight individuals categorised as having learning disabilities. Interview transcripts were coded for all references to relative abilities and analysed using discourse analysis. The participants displayed three orientations towards abilities, namely (i) ascribing deficits to ‘others’, (ii) resisting comparisons of deficit and (iii) claiming ‘normal’ attributes. For the participants, these negotiations of relative abilities provide ways of managing specific aspects of identities associated with learning disabilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-262
JournalBritish Journal of Learning Disabilities
Issue number4
Early online date23 Nov 2008
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


  • discourse analysis
  • identities
  • learning disabilities
  • others
  • relative abilities

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