Disability Studies Quarterly Blog

Book and Media


Review by Erica Bigelow, University of Washington, Email: ebigelow@uw.edu

Keywords: history; education

In their new edition of Introducing Disability Studies, Ronald Berger and Loren Wilbers provide an overview of the interdisciplinary field, integrating new research published since the book’s first edition came out in 2013. Berger and Wilbers understand Disability Studies as a field aiming “to unmask the ideology of ableism,” in both its implicit and its more obvious manifestations, on both the interpersonal and political or structural levels (13). Their book combines a discussion of the theoretical work being done in Disability Studies with a history of disability advocacy, covering a diverse range of topics from different conceptual perspectives on and models of disability to a survey of disability representation in popular culture. The authors often present a number of contentious views – hoping to, in their own words, “avoid propagating yet another ‘politically correct’ surveillance or policing system regarding authentic and inauthentic ways of thinking about disability”—without explicitly endorsing one position over the other(s) (viii). In other words, Berger and Wilbers take as their goal to provide an overview of –or introduce— Disability Studies as a discipline, which includes introducing conceptual disagreements that arise within the field. Because of this, the authors intentionally present their work as a survey of different positions on Critical Disability Studies issues, rather than as an argument in favor of a particular theoretical standpoint.

Organizationally, the book contains a number of features that are especially useful in helping readers navigate the text and find the information they’re looking for. For instance, each chapter contains a number of boldface terms, making it easier to identify key concepts, medical diagnoses, and legal landmarks when they are first mentioned in-text. There are also a number of shaded “Further Explanation” boxes throughout each chapter, which provide case studies or discussions of topics that may be slightly tangential to the chapter’s broader discussion, but that enrich the text nonetheless. The authors don’t take too much background knowledge for granted, making the book particularly accessible to readers who are new to the field, and are interested in Disability Studies either as a formal academic discipline or as a general area of interest. 

Because, as its title suggests, the book is largely introductory, there are parts that may seem rushed, especially to those already familiar with the discipline or whose particular interests lie at the crossroads of Disability Studies and other fields. For example, the book’s treatment of the contemporary intersections of ableism and racism, and the consideration of disabled theorists’ reactions to popular cultural depictions of and tropes about disability, may seem rushed or incomplete to those who have already studied these issues in more depth, or who have a broader foundation of background knowledge (see, for example: pgs. 58,  207). Notably, for instance, the discussion of intersectionality in the book’s second chapter makes no mention of the theory’s origins in Black feminist jurisprudence, particularly the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw (42). Nonetheless, the authors do provide a number of in-text citations throughout each chapter that readers may look to for further clarification or discussion of each of the many topics covered. So, the book serves as a thorough and engaging jumping-off point for those with a burgeoning interest in Disability Studies, and can help guide future research and reading. 

This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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