Extraordinary Normalcy, Ableist Rehabilitation, and Sporting Ablenationalism: The Cultural (Re)Production of Paralympic Disability Narratives

in Sociology of Sport Journal
View More View Less
  • 1 Loughborough University
  • 2 Bournemouth University
  • 3 Western University
Restricted access

Purchase article

USD  $24.95

Student 1 year online subscription

USD  $65.00

1 year online subscription

USD  $87.00

Student 2 year online subscription

USD  $123.00

2 year online subscription

USD  $165.00

In the United Kingdom, significant changes have occurred in the Paralympic media production environment and style of Paralympic broadcasting. Given the generative nature of media texts on cultural representation, the authors explore the circulation of disability narratives in contemporary Paralympic media coverage. Drawing on an integrated data set that brings together textual analysis and audience perceptions, the authors highlight the presence of three disability narratives, termed: extraordinary normalcy, ableist rehabilitation, and sporting ablenationalism. The authors unpack the ways these three narratives differ from the widely and commonly used “supercrip” critique and discuss the implications of these narratives, and the wider cultural discourses and dialogue they generate, in terms of inclusion/exclusion and progressive social change.

Pullen is with the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. Jackson is with the Faculty of Media and Communication, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, Poole, United Kingdom. Silk is with the Faculty of Management, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, Poole, United Kingdom. Howe is with the School of Kinesiology, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada. Silva is with the Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Pullen (E.L.Pullen@lboro.ac.uk) is corresponding author.
  • Ahmed, S. (2004a). Affective economies. Social Text, 22(2), 117139. doi:

  • Ahmed, S. (2004b). The cultural politics of emotion. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Batts, C., & Andrews, D.L. (2011). ‘Tactical athletes’: The United States Paralympic military programme and the mobilization of the disabled soldier/athlete. Sport in Society, 14(5), 553568. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bazeley, P., & Jackson, K. (2013). Qualitative data analysis for NVivo (2nd ed.). London: SAGE.

  • Beacom, A., French, L., & Kendall, S. (2016). Reframing impairment? Continuity and change in media representations of disability through the Paralympic Games. International Journal of Sport Communication, 9(1), 4262. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Berger, R.J. (2008). Disability and the dedicated wheelchair athlete: Beyond the ‘supercrip’ critique. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 37(6), 647678. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste (R. Nice, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  • Brittain, I., & Beacom, A. (2016). Leveraging the London 2012 Paralympic games: What legacy for disabled people? Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 40(6), 499521. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brittain, I., & Beacom, A. (2018). The Palgrave handbook of Paralympic studies. London: Palgrave.

  • Brooke, M. (2018). The Singaporean Paralympics and its media portrayal: Real sport? Men-only? Communication & Sport, 7(4), 446465. doi:

  • Caddick, N. (2019). Life, embodiment and (post)war stories: Studying narrative in critical military studies. Critical Military Studies. Advance online publication. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cleary, K. (2016). Misfitting and hater blocking: A feminist disability analysis of the extraordinary body on reality television. Disability Studies Quarterly, 36(4). doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Closs Stephens, A. (2016). The affective atmospheres of nationalism. Cultural Geographies, 23(2), 181198. doi:

  • Cree, A., & Caddick, N. (2019). Unconquerable Heroes: Invictus, redemption, and the cultural politics of narrative. Journal of War & Culture Studies, 13(3), 258278. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ellis, K. (2009). Beyond the aww factor: Human interest profiles of Paralympians and the media navigation of physical difference and social stigma. Asia Pacific Media Educator, 19, 2336.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ellis, K. (2014). The Voice Australia (2012): Disability, social media and collective intelligence. Continuum, 28(4), 482494. doi:

  • Ellis, R. (2019). Disability and digital television cultures: Representation, access and perception. London: Routledge.

  • Frank, A.W. (2013). The wounded storyteller: Body, illness and ethics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Fritsch, K. (2013). Neoliberal circulation of good affects: Happiness, accessibility, and the capacitation of disability. Health, Culture and Society, 5(1), 135149. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goodley, D., & Lawthom, R. (2019) Critical disability studies, Brexit and Trump: A time of neoliberal–ableism. Rethinking History, 23(2), 233251, doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grossberg, L. (1992). Is there a fan in the house? The affective sensibility of fandom. In L.A. Lewis (Ed.), The adoring audience: Fan culture and popular media (pp. 5060). London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grue, J. (2015). The problem of the supercrip: Representation and misrepresentation of disability. In T. Shakespeare (Ed.), Disability research today: International perspectives (pp. 204218). London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardin, B., & Hardin, M.M. (2004). Conformity and conflict: Wheelchair athletes discuss sport media. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 20(3), 246259. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hodges, C., Scullion, R., & Jackson, D. (2015). From awww to awe factor: UK audience meaning-making of the 2012 Paralympics as mediated spectacle. The Journal of Popular Television, 3(2), 195212. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Horsdal, M. (2011). Telling lives. Exploring dimensions of narratives. London: Routledge.

  • Howe, P.D. (2011). Cyborg and supercrip: The Paralympics technology and the (dis) empowerment of disabled athletes. Sociology, 45(5), 868882. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Howe, P.D. & Silva, C.F. (2017). The cyborgification of Paralympic sport. Movement & Sport Sciences, 97(3), 1725. doi:

  • International Paralympic Committee. (2017). Rio 2016 Paralympics smash all TV viewing records. Retrieved from https://www.paralympic.org/news/rio-2016-paralympics-smash-all-tv-viewing-records

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kama, A. (2004). Supercrips versus the pitiful handicapped: Reception of disabling images by disabled audience members. Communications, 29(4), 447466. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kim, K.T., Lee, S., & Oh, E. (2017). Athletes with disabilities in the Paralympic Games: A framing analysis of television news. Managing Sport and Leisure, 22(4), 255275. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marques, R.F.R., Marivoet, S., Almeida, M.A.B.D., Gutierrez, G.L., Menezes, R.P., & Nunomura, M. 2015. A abordagem mediática sobre o desporto paralímpico: Perspetivas de atletas portugueses. Motricidade, 11(3), 123147. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McGillivray, D., O’Donnell, H., McPherson, G., & Misener, L. (2019). Repurposing the (super)crip. Media representations of disability at the Rio 2016 Paralympic games. Communication & Sport. Advance online publication. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McRuer, R. (2010). Disability nationalism in crip times. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 4(2), 163178. doi:

  • Misener, L. (2012). A media frames analysis of the legacy discourse for the 2010 winter Paralympic games. Communication & Sport, 1(4), 342364. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, D.T., & Snyder, S.L. (2000). Narrative prosthesis. Disability and the dependencies of discourse. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, D.T., & Snyder, S.L. (2015). The biopolitics of disability: Neoliberalism, ablenationalism, and peripheral embodiment. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Monforte, J., Smith, B., & Pérez-Samaniego, V. (2019). ‘It’s not a part of me, but it is what it is’: The struggle of becoming en-wheeled after spinal cord injury. Disability and Rehabilitation. Advance online publication. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Plummer, K. (2016). Narrative power, sexual stories and the politics of storytelling. In A. Antikainen, P. Sikes, & M. Andrews (Eds.), International handbook on narrative and life history (pp. 28092). London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Puar, J.K. (2017). The right to maim: Debility, capacity, disability. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Pullen, E., Jackson, D., Silk, M., & Scullion, R. (2018). Re-presenting the Paralympics: (Contested) philosophies, production practices and the hypervisibility of disability. Media, Culture and Society. 41(4), 465481. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pullen, E., & Silk, M. (2020). Gender, technology and the ablenational Paralympic body politic. Paralympic body politic, Cultural Studies, 34(3), 466488. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Purdue, D.E., & Howe, P.D. (2013). Who’s in and who is out? Legitimate bodies within the Paralympic games. Sociology of Sport Journal, 30(1), 2440. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Quinn, N., & Yoshida, K. (2016). More than sport: Representations of ability and gender by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) of the 2004 summer Paralympic games. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 5(4), 103129. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ryan, M.L. (2004). Narrative across the media. Languages of storytelling. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

  • Schalk, S. (2016). Reevaluating the Supercrip. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 10(1), 7186.

  • Schantz, O.J., & Gilbert, K. (2001) An ideal misconstrued: Newspaper coverage of the Atlanta Paralympic games in France and Germany. Sociology of Sport Journal, 18(1), 6994. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Silva, C.F. & Howe, P.D. (2012). The [in]validity of supercrip representation of Paralympic athletes. Journal for Sport and Social Issues, 36(2), 174194. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, B., & Sparkes, A.C. (2008a). Changing bodies, changing narratives and the consequences of tellability: A case study of becoming disabled through sport. Sociology of Health & Illness, 30(2), 217236. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, B., & Sparkes, A.C. (2008b). Narrative and its potential contribution to disability studies. Disability & Society, 23(1), 1728 doi:

  • Solves, J., Pappous, A., Rius, I., & Kohe, G.Z. (2019). Framing the Paralympic games: A mixed-methods analysis of Spanish media coverage of the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games. Communication & Sport, 7(6), 729751. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sparkes, A.C., & Stewart, C. (2019). Stories as actors causing trouble in lives: A dialogical narrative analysis of a competitive cyclist and the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 11(4), 460477. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sparks, C., & Tulloch, J. (2000). Tabloid tales: Global perspectives on the popular Media. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield.

  • Thomas, N., & Smith, A. (2003). Preoccupied with able-bodiedness? An analysis of the British media coverage of the 2000 Paralympic Games. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 20(2), 166181. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Trevisan, F. (2017). Disability rights advocacy online: Voice, empowerment and global connectivity. London: Routledge.

  • Walsh, A. (2014). Out of the Shadows, into the Light? The broadcasting Legacy of the 2012 Paralympics for Channel 4. In D. Jackson, C. Hodges, R. Scullion, & M. Molesworth (Eds.), Reframing disability? media, (dis)empowerment, and voice in the 2012 Paralympics (pp. 2636). London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wayne, M.M. (2018). Netflix, Amazon, and branded television content in subscription video on-demand portals. Media, Culture, Society, 40(5), 725741. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 305 305 79
Full Text Views 33 33 11
PDF Downloads 8 8 2