Disabled mothers and child custody in Canada and the UK; Intersections of Discourse, Practice and Narrative
Sociology University of Lethbridge Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Disability Studies typically examines barriers to inclusion and citizenship from a materialist and structural basis, often failing to take into account the voices and experiences of those served by public policies and practices. Conversely, narrative studies often fail to connect the embodied experiences of disabled people to the broader structures that constrain or facilitate their lives. Finally, the discipline of disability studies has been charged with being gender-blind in its analyses, marginalizing the concerns of women in the broader struggle for disability rights.
This bridge these gaps, first by examining the narratives of Canadian and British women with disabilities about their gendered experiences as mothers, with a particular focus on mothers´ struggles to maintain child custody. Second, through a critical discourse analysis of policy relating to family, apprehension and disability, the research outlines structures that facilitate or impede disabled mothers and their families. Finally, extending the ideas of feminist poststructuralist Chris Weedon, it unpacks the ways that discourse and narrative intersect.
The data draws on narrative interviews with 43 Canadian and 39 British women concerning their challenges and triumphs and their interactions with helping professions in maintaining full child custody of their children. The study also explores disability and family policy in Canada and the UK, using critical discourse analysis to examine assumptions of pathology and lack embedded in the discourse. These data, drawn from two similar yet divergent cultural contexts, permit us on a manifest level to speculate on best practices, as indicated through the women´s stories about differences in surveillance, intervention and policy relating to child custody. On a latent level, the data also permit us, through an examination of some of the similarities in these social experiences and institutions, to unpack some of the assumptions that are embedded in public policy and practice across cultural contexts pertaining to entitlement, responsibility, and personhood for women with disabilities. Finally, the study permits us to move narrative analysis outside of the bounds of the personal or interactional so as to connect the women´s experiences to broader discursive and material practices of surveillance, intervention and oppression.