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Susanne Stenbacka

Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University

Topic: Disability, welfare and supportive structures in a rural context

keywords: disability, welfare, individual resilience, environmental-social context


In this paper I explore the environmental–social interface of sustainable development, in particular how capabilities, social networks, institutions and the physical environment interact and constitute a basis for individual resilience. This approach locates those processes that are active in the everyday lives of individuals, and investigate how such processes might be supportive or enabling versus obstructive or disabling.

In the center of this study are embodied experiences of individuals living in rural places, facing contemporary rural challenges and societal transformations including the experiences of diverse disabilities. The study is based on qualitative methods, in-depth interviews, with 12 men and women experiencing either a physical or a neuropsychiatric impairment.

The stories shared by the informants illuminate how local institutions and context; for example, public social services, civil society and social networks, together constitute a basis from where individual practices and personal development take shape and depart. In relation to this it also becomes visible how individuals value these contexts and that threatening circumstances such as withdrawal of resources will cause reactions and encourage coping strategies. This study thus supports earlier findings emphasizing the impact of a presence of criticism (Buzzanell 2010), anger as well as applying a sense of humor (Coutu 2002, Earvolino-Ramirez 2007) in resilience processes.

Another important finding is that the interviewed individuals define rural life from where they speak and act, meaning that the rural is not separated from the own embodied practices. While an understanding of the rural often builds upon its peculiarities with reference to their urban counterpart and what the rural is not, such expressions do come through but they are not dominating the narratives.

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