Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

Mariaelena Bartesaghi, Ph.D.

Keywords

Therapy, Expertise, Discourse, Power, Language, Accounts

Abstract

In this thesis, I show how a community of professionals providing equine therapy to individuals with disabilities discursively make sense of their enterprise. A market metaphor illustrates how disability is constructed as the capital sustaining the livelihood of their industry. Disability is a problem-centered concept. It is generally conceptualized according to a medical model which locates disability within the individual, as opposed to understanding it in a sociological sense which accounts for structural, cultural, and communicative factors. Therapy, on the other hand, is problem-determined-it needs to explicitly determine a problem to be treated in order to sustain itself as an industry and to legitimate the services it provides. As practitioners of an "alternative" form of therapy outside of the dominant biomedical frame, members of this community work not only to validate the need for therapy in general, but also to identify and justify the "uniqueness" of the therapy practiced. In an effort to proprietize disability, these professionals are involved in a politics of representation wherein divergent modes of speaking about disability (i.e., speaking from lived experience, speaking from expertise) vie to represent-or own-disability. In accordance with a market model, members are invested, with stakes in the rights to represent disability. Discourses of development and progress, hallmarks of economic ideology, are applied to bodies by staff as a means to validate the need for their services. Continuing this notion of disability as currency, I will demonstrate how, through their talk, members of this community construct types of disability-mental and physical-as having higher and lesser exchange values with respect to their therapeutic endeavors. Power too is conceptualized by professionals as a commodity to be exchanged in transactions from therapy-provider to therapy-receiver.

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