Choice for People with Learning Disabilities Living in Residential Care Settings: a Discourse Analysis

  • Rosalind Paul

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisProfessional Doctorate (ProfD)


Purpose: The discourse of learning disability associated with residential care services for people with learning disabilities has changed from one that placed emphasis upon paternalistic care and control to one that emphasises service-user autonomy through the promotion of individual choice and control. Social policy has been instrumental in bringing about this change: in particular the service-review report The same as you? (Scottish Executive, 2000) and the National Care Standards (Scottish Executive, 2005)highlight human rights legislation as justification for change.

Methodology: This thesis subjects these key policy documents to critical discourse analysis and considers their implications for power (re)distribution between service users and service-providers. In addition, the service-provider perspective was obtained through interviewing the managers of three residential care units. Two approaches were used: Fairclough’s broad-based Dialectical Relational Approach to the analysis of social structures was considered most suited to the analysis of policy documents; and van Leeuwen’s more detailed Social Actors Approach to the analysis of individual agency was considered most suited to the analysis of interviews and the National Care Standards. Luke’s (2005) theory of power provided a framework for the discussion of power and Elder Vass’ (2010) relational emergentist account of language and institutions provided a theoretical account of the forming of normative social institutions.

Findings: Choice, on which social policy is predicated, is intimately bound up with the global political economy. Neo-liberalism and the promotion of social care markets was largely suppressed in the social policy documents examined. An emphasis on the redistribution of power from service-providers to service-users meant that the extent to which others retain the power to limit their rights was also suppressed. The combined effect of style and legitimation strategies employed in the policy documents provided for a manipulative and indirectly coercive policy framework that serves to replicate the paternalistic stance to which it apparently objects. The stigmatised concept of paternalism evokes an adult-to-child relationship. The concept of mentorship emphasises a relationship between adults and is proposed as an alternative framework for practice both for service-providers and policy makers alike.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorHugh O'Donnell (Supervisor) & Anthea Irwin (Supervisor)

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