In my 2016 book Disability Studies1, and reflecting on recent writings2, I argued3 that Critical disability studies is a 'location populated by people who advocate building upon the foundational perspectives of disability studies whilst integrating new and transformative agendas associated with postcolonial, queer and feminist theories'. So, critical disability studies:

  • Acknowledges the importance of analysing disability through materialism and is respectful to the building blocks of disability studies especially the social model of disability;
  • Recognises that our contemporary times are complex as they are marked by austerity, a widening gap between rich and power, globalisation of the guiding principles of late capitalism and therefore require sophisticated social theories that can make sense and contest these processes;
  • Remains mindful of global, national and local economic contexts and their impact on disabled people;
  • Adopts a position of cultural relativism whilst seeking to say some things about the global nature of disability;
  • Recognises the importance of the constitution of the self in relation to others (and is therefore always attuned to the relational qualities of disability);
  • Brings together disability alongside other identities as a moment of refection that Lennard Davis4 terms as dismodernism;
  • Adopts the practice of criticality in order to be critical of all kinds of disability studies (including critical disability studies);
  • Keeps in mind the view that any analysis of disability should not preclude consideration of other forms of political activism.

Critical disability studies is not:

  • A futile exercise that simply adds the word 'critical' to disability studies to suggest all previous examples of disability studies have not been critical;
  • Just another approach to sit alongside traditional approaches like materialist social model perspectives;
  • The insertion of a discursive preoccupation with culture that ignores the material realities of disablism;
  • Simply the study of disability or ability for that matter;
  • An academic exercise without political commitment;
  • Incapable of having values and ambitions that it wants to share with the world.

(Goodley, 2016: 191-192)5

We have entered a period of scholarship and activism that we can - and should - define as critical disability studies.


  1. Goodley, D. (2016). Disability Studies: An interdisciplinary introduction. London: Sage. ISBN: 9781446280683
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  2. See the following for a list of key writings about critical disability studies:
    • Meekosha, H., and Shuttleworth. R. (2009). "What's So 'critical' about Critical Disability Studies?" Australian Journal of Human Rights 15 (1): 47–75.
    • Goodley, D. (2012). Dis/entangling Critical Disability Studies. Disability & Society, 27 (6). 631-644.
    • Shildrick, M. (2012). "Critical Disability Studies: Rethinking the Conventions for the Age of Postmodernity." In N. Watson, A. Roulstone and C. Thomas (Eds). Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies. London: Routledge (30-41). 9781138787711 pub: 2014-02-27
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  3. A quote from Goodley (2016: 190-191). ISBN: 9781446280683
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  4. Davis, L.J. (2006). The end of identity politics and the beginning of dismodernism. On Disability as an unstable category. In L. Davis. (Ed). The Disability Studies Reader. Second Edition. (pp231-242). New York: Routledge
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  5. Goodley, D. (2016). Disability Studies: An interdisciplinary introduction. London: Sage. ISBN: 9781446280683
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