Living with Brain Injury

Narrative, Community, and Women’s Renegotiation of Identity

255 pages

December, 2013

ISBN: 9780814760482



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J. Eric Stewart is a Clinical-Community Psychologist and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell.

All books by J. Eric Stewart

When Nancy was in her late twenties, she began having blinding headaches, tunnel vision, and dizziness, which led to the discovery of an abnormality on her brain stem. Complications during surgery caused serious brain damage, resulting in partial paralysis of the left side of her body and memory and cognitive problems. Although she was constantly evaluated by her doctors, Nancy’s own questions and her distress got little attention in the hospital. Later, despite excellent job performance post-injury, her physical impairments were regarded as an embarrassment to the “perfect” and “beautiful” corporate image of her employer.
Many conversations about brain injury are deficit-focused: those with disabilities are typically spoken about by others, as being a problem about which something must be done. In Living with Brain Injury, J. Eric Stewart takes a new approach, offering narratives which highlight those with brain injury as agents of recovery and change in their own lives.
Stewart draws on in-depth interviews with ten women with acquired brain injuries to offer an evocative, multi-voiced account of the women’s strategies for resisting marginalization and of their process of making sense of new relationships to self, to family and friends, to work, and to community. Bridging psychology, disability studies, and medical sociology, Living with Brain Injury showcases how—and on what terms—the women come to re-author identity, community, and meaning post-injury.


  • "Identity is one of the most enduring but complex topics in disability studies. How do you create a positive sense of self in the midst of a severely devalued and marginalized status? Sadly, the voices of people with brain injuries are virtually absent in the literature about their experience. J. Eric Stewart's research thus addresses a critical gap. But this is much more than a study about brain injury. With the help of ten gracious informants, Stewart has produced a stunning work on identity and human transformation. Through his scrupulous attention to his informants’ accounts and his painstaking analysis, he reveals a complex humanity in these women's experiences that is rarely associated with brain injury. By striking a creative balance between the personal story of recovery and its broader social/cultural significance, he contributes significantly to disability studies and provides illuminating reading for psychologists, students in disability and health fields, scholars studying embodiment and culture, and disability advocates. Above all, his fidelity to the women's stories shines through the book from beginning to end, serving as an instructive example of respectful and intuitive qualitative research. The result is a wonderful balance of intellectual sophistication and grounded, accessible information."

    —Carol J. Gill, University of Illinois at Chicago

  • “A beautifully written and moving account of how we adjust to a radical discontinuity in our narratives about who we are and where we belong in society. Few people truly understand the extent to which a brain injury can change our abilities, our social status, our physical appearance, even our personalities—all deeply affecting our basic sense of self. This book marries superb scholarship in qualitative analysis with inspired writing about the personal experiences of individuals who have lost much, but through struggle and commitment have learned to tell a new and satisfying story about themselves. Here we learn about the commonalities of the challenges as well as come to appreciate the diversity and creativity of the solutions."

    —Wendy Heller, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

  • "The book explores some of the participants' interesting and varied experiences, including their fights and struggles against specific barriers or forms of discrimination; their integration into the disability community; and their religious or spiritual experiences . . . . Stewart effectively tells a story about the lived experience of brain injury and rehabilitation through an exploration of the women's identity."

    Sociology of Health and Illness

  • "Stewart succeeds in shining a critical light upon the workings of society and in particular on the subjectification of disabled people.  The experiences in this book emphasize how this subjectification occurs in the dominant discourses that direct both society as a whole and rehabilitation units in society.”

    Sociology & Illness