Resilience and People with Learning Disabilities
: A Co-operative Inquiry

  • Anne Rathbone

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Current understanding of resilience research suggests the importance of taking a critical, transformative approach. However, empirical research is lacking.

This research explored a participatory approach to resilience research with people with learning disabilities. The research specifically aimed to a) generate knowledge on adversity and resilience for and with people with learning disabilities; b) examine the relevance of an evidence-based Resilience Framework; c) develop insight into mechanisms underpinning participatory research.

Mertens’ Transformative Paradigm guided the methodology, alongside a Freirean lens on praxis. Co-inquiry (CI) was the method, with an emphasis on relationship-building and power disruption. Eight people with learning disabilities (aged 18 to 43) participated, through 41 CI sessions, supported by two community organisations Culture Shift and Boingboing. CI actions by the co researchers included participating in interviews, delivering arts-based activities to others, co-delivery of presentations to academics and practitioners and the development of a resilience-based game. This game was (a) a tool for data collection and participatory analysis; (b) a transformative action and output. Following this, an abductive data analysis was undertaken, integrating the co-researchers’ own interpretations.

Findings showed negative impact of exclusionary othering, particularly as a barrier to belonging and opportunities to make a difference. They indicated the resilience-building value of belonging and opportunities for making a difference. Findings regarding the resilience framework highlighted the importance of presentation that is accessible and delivered explicitly through a social justice lens. Co-directed social actions aimed to challenge stigma and promote positive awareness of the co-researchers’ potential and expertise. Seven co-researchers have remained involved in ongoing resilience-based social action.

The thesis concludes that these actions were linked to transformational impact, through power-disruption, praxis, feeling valued and adding value and positive impact on self-identity. The participatory ethos of both Community Partners and the University of Brighton was essential in promoting sustainability of opportunity for the co-researchers. Mapping of the findings onto a conceptual framework for Community Based Participatory Research validated the findings with regard to relationships between process, practice and outcomes.

This thesis constitutes empirical resilience research addressing recent critiques of resilience research as colluding with inequalities. It contributes to empirical research on the construct of mattering, highlighting its role in mitigating impacts of exclusionary othering and its value in participatory resilience research. This is particularly crucial in participatory research with marginalised groups including people with learning disabilities, who often face significant exclusionary othering. It offers novel critical perspectives on Mertens’ Transformation Paradigm, the value of the CBPR conceptual framework for participatory health research and a new model for Co-owned Praxis (following Prilleltensky). It demonstrates an approach to Community University Partnerships that democratises research through sustainable transformative alliances.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorAngela Hart (Supervisor) & Carl Walker (Supervisor)

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