Impairment, Identity and Interaction
YOU ARE HERE: Workshop Sessions » Impairment, identity and interaction

Impairment, identity and interaction

Social identity is constructed and changed in social interactions between members of society. Members of society who have become impaired report that the reactions to their impairment by other members can be more of a problem than the bodily consequences of their condition (Cole 2009). Hence, they distinguish between the medical impairment and the social induced disability others project onto them. “Being disabled” or perhaps rather “becoming disabled” is thus a process of social interaction. This workshop will investigate how identities become “disabled” and how this is achieved in ordinary ways in mundane and institutional interactions in everyday life with non-disabled persons, (abled) relatives or professionals. In the framework of Etho-methodology (EM) and Conversation Analysis (CA) we will investigate how participants in interaction go about constructing, reconstructing, negotiating, renegotiation identities and perhaps struggling for or against them. Hence, we call for papers which focus on identity (re)construction processes in interaction within an EMCA framework.


Catherine E. Brouwer and Dennis Day: Am I imagining things?

In this paper we report an Ethnomethodological/Conversation Analytic (EM/CA) investigation of 11 consultations of around 30 minutes each between an audiologist and hearing impaired patients who need hearing aid adjustments. The consultations were recorded at 2 hearing clinics in Denmark run privately by the audiologist. EM/CA attempts through the detailed investigation of social practices, in particular the sequential development of talk-in-interaction, to arrive at the (ethno) methods through which members of society conduct their affairs. It proceeds by field work and the audio and/or video recording of salient interactions in the selected setting. Recorded material is transcribed in some detail which assists in the analysis of the interactions’ sequential development. In EM/CA identity has always been conceived as contingent and collaboratively accomplished in social activities. This is not to suggest that identities may not be conflictual, or ‘troubled’, nor that there are no constraints on if and how they may be accomplished. In institutional interaction, such as we are investigating, there are often socially mandated expectations as to what participants are to do under the guise of particular identities. In the audiology clinic, patients and audiologist must collaboratively work out descriptions of symptoms related to hearing which can be treated.  Although our consultations are somewhat atypical of the data investigated in most studies falling under the rubric ‘doctor-patient interaction’, we find nonetheless many of the same concerns being forwarded by participants. In this regard we find particularly the issue of doctorability to be quite germane in understanding the ongoing work participants do to accomplish identity in the consultations. Our focus in this paper are cases where the audiologist and patient do not arrive at ‘doctorable‘ symptoms and a treatment and this portends identities of both may be ‘troubled’. In such cases, participants may either account for the symptoms as beyond the realm of audiological treatment, or search for other symptoms which do. These types of actions in a consultation lay grounds for possible inferences concerning the legitimacy of identities given that socially mandated expectations are not met. A ‘troubled’ identity in this setting is thus not grounded in the patient’s impairment per se, but in its the interactive accomplishment of its doctorability.

Gitte Rasmussen: It’s my story. - Fighting disabling processes in educational environments

One of the social rights that we ascribe to one another as fully competent members of society is the right to tell our own ’witnessed’ stories (Sacks 1970) and report our own social experiences.  These may then be evaluated, agreed upon or disagreed upon whereby we co-construct, co-conceptualize and achieve intersubjective understanding of our common social life and of society (Rasmussen 2010). However, not every member has access to the bodily resources (language, gestures, mimic, gaze, bodily movements) that members of society commonly and conventionally make use of as ways of achieving intersubjective understandings. People suffering from motoric or cognitive impairments also often struggle with speech impairments and/or communication disabling processes (Howe 2008) and hence with participating in the social interactional processes of constructing social life and society. Thus, people suffering from communicative disabilities are offered language and communication training.

As in every other environment, identities are of course a part of the interactional work that constitutes the institutional task, the communication training. This paper will present a case study as an example of identity work in institutional interaction. The participants in the interaction are a 6 year old boy suffering from dysphasia and his speech therapist. The interaction was video-taped and transcribed for research purposes. The paper will demonstrate a) how the participants in sequences of interaction orient to and use their institutional identities as speaking teacher and non-speaking client, and b) how as a consequence of the methods used to achieve the institutional task, the right to tell his own ’witnessed’ story and report his own social experiences is withdrawn from the boy. The fragment shows how the boy resists and struggles against this disabling interactional process. Hence the paper discusses how identities as teacher and client but also (disabled) non-fully and fully competent member of society are a part of and a product of institutional interactional training sequences and processes.

Mark Thornberg and Johannes Wagner: Quieting kids with ADHD diagnosis in the classroom

The number of persons diagnosed with ADHD in Denmark has increased rapidly (Lægemiddelstyrelsen 2010). The rising numbers may have to do with the public sector being interested to push marginalized groups into larger categories in order to make the public sector more cost efficient. One of these categories is ADHD that, as the Danish doctor in psychiatry Henrik Rindum put it in a TV documentary, has functioned as a universal category that the municipalities use to put expensive and difficult ‘special cases’ into to save time and resources for more general issues (Danmarks Radio 2011).

A share of contemporary research on treatment of kids with ADHD has been in cyberpsychology. Studies show that simulations like virtual reality can be used to control the amount of stimuli a recipient of information gets (Tan and Cheung 2008). This makes it easier for people diagnosed with ADHD to maintain focus. Other studies have shown that kids prone to be addicted to computer games are often kids with ADHD who have not been diagnosed (Borovoy 2008). In short, games have shown to offer kids rules and barriers to orient with and within (Goffman 1972) that makes it easier and more desirable for them to interact with other people through this medium. Games are therefore been used to train ASDHD kids to gain control over what is perceived as their behavioral disorder.

This paper takes interaction in the context of a game as the point of departure to investigate how an institution deals with emerging trouble in the interaction that is referred to the kid’s ADHD condition.   The institution in question is a school for kids in the age of 6-12 with learning, attention and socio-emotional disabilities. Most often are these kids diagnosed with autism or ADHD. The purpose with this paper is to investigate how perceived ADHD related behavior is interactionally coped with. How does it occur? When does it occur? How is it responded to?

The data that will be used to illuminate these questions will be recordings of kids playing Pen & Paper Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. The analysis will focus on single episodes in the data where conduct is an issue for the participants present.


Borovoy, Amy 2008 Japan’s Hidden Youths: Mainstreaming the Emotionally Distressed in Japan. Cult Med Psychiatry 32, 552-576

Goffman 1972 “Fun in Games” in Encounters. Penguin.

Tan, Teck Sheunn and Wing Sum Cheung 2008 Effects of computer collaborative group work on peer acceptance of a junior pupil with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Computers & Education 50, 725-741.

Thomas Wiben Jensen: You’re a big boy right?! - The interactional negotiation and construction of normativity and social identity in learning activities between an adolescent with intellectual impairment and a support teacher

Intellectual impairment can be construed as more than just a medical diagnosis defined by impaired cognitive functioning and ‘adaptive behaviors’ (Taylor et al 2004). It can also be seen as something that is produced from the norms and structures of society – “disability is all the things which imposes restrictions on disabled people,” as Oliver has famously put it (Oliver 1990: 33). Taking a micro perspective on this social model of disability one can argue that intellectual impairment is to a certain extent a flexible phenomenon which is negotiated, constructed and reconstructed in various social interactions. This talk will address a specific type of interaction, namely learning activities involving an adolescent with intellectual impairment and the pedagogical staff. Learning activities involving conflict situations can be seen as a medium in and through which social identity and normativity are challenged, negotiated and constructed – both on behalf of the adolescent and the support teacher.

On the basis of video recordings and a detailed transcription of verbal actions as well as bodily movements I will present an analysis of a specific interaction between an adolescent with intellectual impairment and a support teacher. Based on the methodologies of Conversation Analysis and Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1991; Heritage & Clayman 2010)  with a special focus on the role of bodily movements in interaction (Hougaard & Hougaard 2009; Streek et al 2011) the analysis will demonstrate the subtle ways in which the social identity of the participants and the normativity of defining how to properly perform a learning activity is produced during the cause of the interaction.


Gitte Rasmussen, Center for Social Practices and Cognition, SDU.



Catherine E. Brouwer and Dennis Day: Am I imagining things?

Gitte Rasmussen: It’s my story. - Fighting disabling processes in educational environments

Mark Thornberg and Johannes Wagner: Quieting kids with ADHD diagnosis in the classroom

Thomas Wiben Jensen: You’re a big boy right?! - The interactional negotiation and construction of normativity and social identity in learning activities between an adolescent with intellectual impairment and a support teacher

Chair: Gitte Rasmussen

Comments on content: 
Revised 2012.01.15