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Body and existence when learning to lead a new life: the example of visual impariment and blindness

Conference contribution
Authors Inger Berndtsson
Published in Paper presented at ECER (the European Conference on Educational Research) Porto, Portugal, 2-5 September
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Education and Special Education
Language en
Keywords lived body, existence, lifeworld, learning, visual impairment
Subject categories Pedagogy

Abstract

People who become visually impaired or blind as children, teenagers or adults will have their lives changed in a drastic way (Berndtsson, 2001). This is something that happens to and is relevant for people in various ages all over the world. Earlier habitual activities are no longer possible to perform in the same manner as before. Also, relations and communications to people both near and unrelated are most often changed, sometimes primarily seen upon as a blind person, a kind of stereotype. Visual impairment and blindness also have impact on existence, resulting in feelings as being of lower value and chaos in life. Becoming visually impaired has to be mourned for. Further, handling this new life-situation has to be learned. Using a lifeworld phenomenological approach the changed body is seen upon as having resulted in a changed world, due to the intermingle between body and world (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2012). Learning processes are then interpreted as re-establish the relations to the world. Method The research is based on the lifeworld approach developed in Gothenburg (Bengtsson, 2005, 2013). This empirical research tradition is characterized by open and flexible methods, where the participants’ lived experiences are put in focus. Six people participated in the empirical research, aged 38 to 61. The research was conducted in relation to a rehabilitation clinic where people were offered rehabilitation activities. The chosen people were all going to start a rehabilitation period, due to visual impairment or blindness. The participants were followed through their learning activities such as learning to use a long cane, optics and using aids. In total 45 participant observations were conducted. Also a rehabilitation group was observed with meetings one day a week, during nine weeks. Qualitative interviews were performed with each participants focusing on 1) A life-story interview on how their lives had changed because of visual impairment. 2) An interview ascertaining how they had learned to handle their new life situation in their everyday life. 3) An interview focusing on the participant’s experience of forming part of a rehabilitation group. 4) Interviews related to learning orientation and mobility skills. 5) Follow up interviews within the year. 6) Follow up interviews 5–6 years later. In total 41 interviews were conducted, mostly in the participants’ homes. Narratives were also to a great extent present during the interviews highlighting experienced learning situations. Almost all of the interviews were transcribed verbatim by the researcher. The total material has undergone careful processes of interpretation, guided by the hermeneutical tradition (Ödman, 2007). It has been analysed in great detail several times over. A thematic analysis was performed for each participant, identifying central themes in their respective training and learning. Finally an analysis characterized by hermeneutical interpretation (Heidegger, 1927/2013) was carried on, to understand the significance of learning new skills based on the whole material. In this final analysis also lifeworld theories were used to further develop and deepen the interpretations and the results. The research has been approved by an ethics committee. Expected Outcomes The results of the study confirmed to a great extent results and interpretations observed and presented in an earlier similar study (Berndtsson, 2001). However, in the earlier study the participants were interviewed about their learning processes afterwards, whereas in the present study ongoing learning was studied. Becoming visually impaired or blind has been shown to resulting in a break in life, dividing life in before and after blindness. Learning is interpreted as the tool to conquer the new world. When becoming visually impaired or blind this is often correlated to an existential crisis in life, a situation that has to be mourned. In the results it has become obvious that this situation is characterized by a here and now situation, not being aware of neither history, nor the future. The body can be compared to as being trapped, resulting in a contracted world. The concept horizon (van Peursen, 1977) is used to describe both the contracted horizons, but also the possibilities to have the horizons widened again. The main activity having the horizons widened is learning. However, first of all the impairment has to be mourned, it is then possible to again direct yourself to the future and learning activities. Learning related to visual impairment is to a great extent a bodily activity, focusing the lived body in relation to the world; thus accentuate existence (Heidegger, 1927/2013).

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