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Disability and flexible employment: an embodied approach

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  • Economics


Disabled people are significantly disadvantaged in employment, with many more unemployed, in lower status occupations and on poorer salaries than their able-bodied counterparts. The increased use of flexible employment methods, including part-time working, temporary contracts and ‘flexitime’, has raised questions about how the experience of disabled people in employment has been affected. This thesis has this as its motivating issue, that is, have flexible employment practices provided more opportunities for disabled people in employment or further restricted their prospects? After outlining the main issues involved in the disability and employment debate, the thesis uses the period of the two World Wars to draw out the three central themes of disability, flexible employment and the ‘body’. These are explored in turn, in particular their changing understandings. The recent social theories of the body are of particular relevance. Rethinking the body as a social and cultural entity, the mind and the physical body of a person connected to, affected by and affecting, social and cultural processes, allows the development of the theory of ‘embodiment’. The thesis, using evidence from the main UK disability and employment organisations and three large UK service sector companies, argues that an embodied approach can provide a better understanding of the relationship between disability and flexible employment. An embodied approach forces a focus on the processes of employment and disability by looking at how work operates. It also puts attention on the materiality of employment for disabled people. The spatial practices of employment in the companies can be better understood through an embodied approach as the full range of the interaction between employees and their work - mental and physical - is involved. The whole nature of the meaning of ‘employment’ and ‘disability’ is also raised.

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