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Origin Myths: Narratives of Authority, Resistance, Disability, and Law

David M. Engel
Law & Society Review
Vol. 27, No. 4 (1993), pp. 785-826
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/3053953
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3053953
Page Count: 42
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Origin Myths: Narratives of Authority, Resistance, Disability, and Law
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Abstract

Origin stories are a distinctive form of narrative. In their account of how something "began to be," such stories connect past and present, clarify the meanings of important events, reaffirm core norms and values, and assert particular understandings of social order and individual identity. The parents of children with disabilities tell strikingly similar origin stories about the day their child was first diagnosed. Such stories not only explore the meanings of a transformative event but also draw implicit connections between past encounters with medical specialists and present encounters with educational specialists as mandated by an important federal statute. This article, based on an ethnographic study of parents, children, and educators, traces the implicit references in the parents' origin myths to a set of key oppositions that reflect their experiences within the statutory framework of special education: cooperative versus unilateral decisionmaking, lay versus professional knowledge, and authority versus legal empowerment. The article also compares the ways in which law and myth address the conflicting perspectives of disability specialists and of the parents and children themselves.

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