Being just their hands? Personal assistance for disabled people as bodywork



Drawing on the notion of bodywork, we analyse the bodily aspects of personal assistance to expand the dialogue between medical sociology and disability studies. We aim to, firstly, overcome the lack of attention to the bodywork of personal assistant (PAs) in disability studies; secondly, explore the micropolitics of personal assistance and the role of independent living mandates in configuring this bodywork of PAs; and, thirdly, propose a more relational and material approach to the impairment/disability debate. This exploration is based on qualitative semi-structured interviews with 23 PAs conducted in Spain between 2018 and 2020. Our research reveals that PAs’ bodywork implies performing their body as body-absence, such as when they enact body-tool and body-prosthesis figurations, but also as body-presence, for instance, as acting bodies and affected/affecting bodies in specific situations. Through their analysis, we foreground how PAs’ bodywork conveys normative ways of enacting the body and how these body figurations are not only challenged and negotiated but define the actual practice of personal assistance. To conclude, we stress on the theoretical contributions of our study towards both disability studies and medical sociology.

García-Santesmases, A., López Gómez, D., & Pié Balaguer, A. (2022). Being just their hands? Personal assistance for disabled people as bodywork. Sociology of Health & Illness, 1–20.