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A legacy of silence: the intersections of medical sociology and disability studies
  1. Gareth Martin Thomas
  1. School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gareth Martin Thomas, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK; thomasg23{at}


Disability remains on the margins of the social sciences. Even where disability is foregrounded as a category of analysis, accounts regularly emerge in silos, with little interdisciplinary dialogue acknowledging the potential intersections and points of convergence. This discord is particularly acute within medical sociology and disability studies, yet there is mostly a legacy of silence about the relationship between the two disciplines. Drawing upon data from a qualitative study with parents of disabled children in the UK, I show the value of meshing ideas and tropes from medical sociology and disability studies to make sense of parents’ lived experiences. They described the challenges of living with 'impairment' and a need to readjust expectations. At the same time, parents were keen to not align with a deficit framing of their lives. They talked in affirmative terms about their children as sources of joy and vitality, perceived themselves as ‘normal’, and described convivial, even unremarkable, interactions in public spaces. Yet, parents encountered difficulties when navigating institutional settings and bureaucratic arrangements, or what was commonly referred to as ‘the system’. Their troubles were not located in their children’s bodies, but in—as per a disability studies sensibility—cultural and structural systems preventing their capacity to live well. I argue that both disability studies and medical sociology offer something to the analysis, thereby recognising the gains of not simply buying into the tradition of one worldview. I conclude by imploring for more concrete conversations between both disciplines.

  • disability
  • sociology
  • child health
  • social science

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  • Contributors I am the sole author of this article.

  • Funding This project was funded by The Sociological Review as part of their Kick Start Grant scheme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.