The blind leading the blind : frame alignment and membership meetness



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Membership in a social movement organization (SMO) and membership discourse provide space for participants to name and reconstitute their experiences, bodies, and self-images through an embodiment of organizational frames. This reconstitution is especially affirmed in the interaction of marginalized groups, such as individuals with disabilities, whom make up disability focused organizations and social movements. As a group with multiple intersectionalities, as well as an even smaller subsection of various marginalized populations, individuals with blindness face unique barriers when consideration of participants' identities and self-understandings is central in understanding entry as well as ongoing participation in organizations. Disability based organizations, represented by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), must carefully frame the organizational membership of certain individuals whom could threaten cohesion through differing understanding of identities, not revolving around disability. This thesis is an examination of the organizational discourse and the "membership meetness" of participating persons in the NFB. Goffman’s notion of “breaking frame” theoretically informs this analysis of organizational discourse produced by the 'collective blind' in one of the oldest American disability social movement organizations to date. The NFB’s attempt to mitigate the “broken frame” introduced by the incorporation of members whom are not seemingly suitable and do not self identify as blind, into an overwhelmingly blindness based enterprise is to strategically mend existing frames to reinterpret extant social norms. The purpose of this thesis is to use a grounded theory approach, to tease out how membership is framed. In the NFB, frame alignment is accomplished by: framing blindness through allies transformed as friends, framing blindness as a characteristic, framing blindness as respectability, and framing blindness through rhetorical humor in narrative. The above four frames to disability based social movements offers researchers the opportunity to understand how groups attempt to integrate into their activities members who lack “membership meetness” while simultaneously garnering support and advancing interests within the larger movement.