research proposal in a nutshell

The aim of this project is to provide a framework with which to investigate the construct of disability from an emic perspective, using a novel approach to cultural consonance analysis. Ultimately, it is hoped that a better understanding of the mechanisms by which people are labeled and come to experience themselves as deviating from expected ideals or norms will pave the way for more constructive policies, and a more enabling physical and social environment, in the effort to encourage the social participating and inclusion of people with disabilities. I will begin my investigation in Poland.

Anthropology and disability (theory): The social definition of disability holds that one who has an impairment is made disabled when he or she is (inadvertently or purposefully) excluded from participating in society and activities that ‘normal’ people are able to do without thinking twice (Kasnitz and Shuttleworth 2001). A person might be unable to walk (an impairment) and in a wheelchair, but if all buildings and public transport is wheelchair accessible, if all employers are just as likely to hire him/her as any other just as capable but able-bodied candidate, and in other context, people were not afraid of his or her difference either – than this person need not live a lower standard of life than anyone else in society, and their impairment may not be disabling or experienced as a disability. Thus, statistics on the occurrence of a phenomenon such as multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia in a society may be useful and of interests, but don’t tell us anything about the occurrence of disability (Kasnitz & Shuttleworth 2001).

Moreover, a situation that may sound appalling from one cultural perspective – based on the standards one’s self is used to – may be more or less the norm for disabled and non-disabled people alike, in another culture. For example, if one reads the statement “the disabled in communist countries were assigned to specific work factories” from an American perspective – in which it is assumed that all individuals should be free to develop themselves in the direction they (the individual) choose and follow a life or career path of their own individual choice – this would sound like an appalling and utterly degrading situation. Whereas, if one understands that during communist rule, individual choice and personal autonomy was very limited for everyone, it may seem as though people with certain disabilities were, to a more or less extent, placed on equal grounds to the rest of society by having to participate in assigned labor just like everyone else. Hence the need to study attitudes toward disability from an emic perspective, rather than using one’s own cultural ideals, norms or standards to evaluate other peoples attitudes toward disability.

This study proposes a framework for investigating the construct of disability from an emic, or insiders, perspective applying the theory of cultural consonance. A Cultural Consonance Analysis (CCA) measures the extent to which individuals are seen by other and experience themselves as (un)able to live up to collective expectations (Dressler 2012:326). I will thus investigate the extent to which physically disabled people in Poland fit in to Polish society or live up to Polish ideals – in terms of the type of lifestyle/standard of life, and personal characteristics or skills people should (ideally) have, according to Polish standards.

Note: Whereas CCA has up till now been primarily used to evaluate the personal experience of individuals in response to their own perception of their congruency with a shared model (Dressler 2007; 2012), the negative psycho-social effects of a low Cultural Consonance have been described as arising from an individual being judged by others, and experiencing themselves, as unable to live up to collective expectations (Dressler 2012:326). Using Cultural Consonance Analysis to explore not only an individual’s own perception of his or her beliefs and behavior in relation to a shared model, but also how they are evaluated by others, in terms of how closely they ‘match’ the cultural model or ideal, is thus a novel but logical extension to a more traditional approach of cultural consonance analysis (Dressler, personal conversation). I will refer to these two locations of cultural consonance evaluation as perceived cultural consonance and experienced cultural consonance. I will ultimately investigate both but am predominantly interested in the perceived cultural consonance of people with disabilities in Poland, more so than their personally experienced consonance with a dominant model.

Please ask me for the password if you’d like to read the full proposal.


Dressler, W. W., Borges, C. D., Balieiro, M. C., & Santos, J. E. dos. (2005). Measuring Cultural Consonance: Examples with Special Reference to Measurement Theory in Anthropology. Field Methods17(4), 331–355.

Dressler, W., Balieiro, M., Ribeiro, R., & Dos Santos, J. (2007). Cultural consonance and psychological distress: Examining the associations in multiple cultural domains. CULTURE MEDICINE AND PSYCHIATRY, 31(2), 195–224.

Dressler, W. W., Oths, K. S., Balieiro, M. C., Ribeiro, R. P., & Dos Santos, J. E. (2012). How culture shapes the body: Cultural consonance and body mass in urban brazil. American Journal of Human Biology, 24(3), 325–331.

Kasnitz, D., & Shuttleworth, R. (2001). Introduction: Anthropology in Disability Studies. Disability Studies Quarterly21(3). Retrieved from


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