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Talking about learning disability: Discursive acts in managing an ideological dilemma

Cluley, Victoria; Pilnick, Alison; Fyson, Rachel


Professor of Language, medicine and Society


Learning disability is a term that can mean different things to different people. It is also a term that has undergone much revision and critique, being linked to stigma and prejudice. Consequently, talking about learning disability can be a delicate matter. This paper analyses the discursive work done by focus group participants (professionals and lay people in supportive roles) to manage their talk about learning disability. We show how participants drew on six interpretive repertoires, organised as three binary pairs, to negotiate an ideological dilemma associated with stigma and the body. We argue that the participants drew on these repertoires to maintain a particular subject position, the ‘good person’ subject position, and performed what we call ‘passing off’ behaviour to manage their talk. We conclude that some aspects of learning disability remain ‘unspeakable’, and that this has consequences for the policies and practices which determine the support available to people with learning disabilities.


Cluley, V., Pilnick, A., & Fyson, R. (2022). Talking about learning disability: Discursive acts in managing an ideological dilemma. SSM - Qualitative Research in Health, 2, Article 100088.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 12, 2022
Online Publication Date Apr 25, 2022
Publication Date Dec 1, 2022
Deposit Date Apr 21, 2022
Publicly Available Date Apr 22, 2022
Journal SSM - Qualitative Research in Health
Print ISSN 2667-3215
Electronic ISSN 2667-3215
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Article Number 100088
Public URL
Publisher URL


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