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Disability and the sociology of health and illness

In: Handbook on the Sociology of Health and Medicine


  • Gareth M. Thomas


In this chapter, I provide an overview of disability as a category of analysis in the sociology of health and illness. I begin by discussing the lack of dialogue between medical sociology and disability studies. Both disciplines co-exist, yet there are few interdisciplinary exchanges that recognise their associated intersections and inconsistencies. From here, I outline three topics that offer opportunities for merging concepts, ideas, and sentiments from both disciplines. First, I capture how attending to the individual and structural properties of stigma unites concerns of both medical sociologists and disability studies scholars. Second, I show how we can further ponder this disciplinary relationship by considering matters of care, both inside and outside of health and social care services. Third, I recognise the value of medical sociology and disability studies for understanding the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of its disproportionate impact on disabled people and its illumination of a troubling history of hostility and indifference to disability. In so doing, I contend that disability aligns with central and longstanding points of interest within sociology, in ways which merit more theoretical and empirical attention.

Suggested Citation

  • Gareth M. Thomas, 2023. "Disability and the sociology of health and illness," Chapters, in: Alan Petersen (ed.), Handbook on the Sociology of Health and Medicine, chapter 24, pages 378-392, Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:elg:eechap:19641_24

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