Theory

I am currently writing a book called “A Sociology of Impairment,” which will be published by Routledge. I feel like the social model of disability has been a great vehicle for advancing the rights of disabled people, but there is a need to more closely link the experience of impairment to disabling barriers. In this book, I aim to make some more connections between disability studies and medical sociology.

I am often interested in exploring the ways contemporary sociological theory (in particular, queer studies, postcolonialism, the sociology of the body, and various postmodern approaches) help us understand the power dynamics which underline many social experiences.

Here are two examples of articles I have written where I tried to use one theoretical approach (postcolonialism, and queer theory, respectively) in order to understand the dynamics associated with disability.

Sherry, M. (2007) (Post)Colonizing Disability, Wagadu, Volume 4, Summer, pp.10-22.

Disability and postcolonialism are two important, and inter-related, discourses in the social construction of the nation and of those bodies deemed worthy of citizenship rights. This paper acknowledges the material dimensions of disability, impairment–and postcolonialism and its associated inequalities–but it also highlights the rhetorical connections that are commonly made between elements of postcolonialism (exile, diaspora, apartheid, slavery, and so on) and experiences of disability (deafness, psychiatric illness, blindness, etc.). The paper argues that researchers need to be far more careful in their language around experiences of both disability and postcolonialism. Neither disability nor postcolonialism should be understood as simply a metaphor for the other experience; nor should they be rhetorically employed as a symbol of the oppression involved in a completely different experience. A central focus of this paper is the rhetorical connection commonly made between various elements of postcolonialism (colonization, exile, diaspora, apartheid, slavery, and so on) and experiences of disability. The paper also argues that researchers need to be far more thoughtful and careful in theorizing of this relationship. Postcolonialism should not be understood as simply a metaphor for the experience of disability; nor should the terms “colonialism” or “disability” be rhetorically employed as a symbol of the oppression involved in a completely different experience.

Sherry, M. (2004) Overlaps and contradictions between queer theory and disability studies, Disability and Society, Volume 19, Number 7, December 2004 , pp. 769-783

This paper begins by exploring similarities in the experiences of queers and disabled people, such as familial isolation, high rates of violence, stereotypes and discrimination, and the difficulties associated with passing and coming out. Rejecting pathologization and politicizing access as well as using humor and parody as political tools have been important for both movements. The paper then considers similarities and differences in Queer Theory and Disability Studies as intellectual disciplines, by examining their debt to feminism, their opposition to hegemonic normalcy, their strategic use of universalist and minority discourses, their deconstruction of essentialist identity categories and their use of concepts such as performativity.