We were invited to comment on this work as a means to stimulate dialog and debate about the growth and development of disability studies as a field. First, we want to thank the editors for structuring this stimulating format. Second, we applaud the authors for undertaking the large task of longitudinally following the evolution and change in disability studies. We offer commentary with great respect for the authors who have invited scrutiny and analysis of their own work. The article raises significant and provocative questions for contemplation, intellectual advancement, and informed educational policy and praxis. Of particular note are the questions raised from the 2008 SDS conference seminar where initial data from this survey were discussed; these provide curious and poignant queries for fertile discussion.

We empathize with the authors who attempted to achieve their explicit aim of developing a database in the absence of well developed theory and clearly defined constructs characterizing disability studies and disability studies literature. Accomplishing such a task through quantification in any topical area requires sufficient clarity of theory from which constructs can be extracted, and lexically and operationally defined. The vagaries of what was to be studied led the authors into a methodological thicket in which they became mired with the impossibility of developing, detailing, and enacting systematic methods to yield meaningful data to support their conclusions. Furthermore, we realize that language interferes with communication but caution against implying medicalized notions of disability while asserting an opposing paradigmatic view. As example the inclusion of statistics about disability prevalence are developed through surveillance of impairment, not through analysis of progressive definitions of disability that do not lend themselves well to measurement. We would suggest that if quantification is the aim of a study of disability studies that this approach be delayed until theories, even if competing, can be clarified and operationalized for quantitative comparison and surveillance. This point provides a segue to our comments and questions about the fundamental foundations and principles of the work.

First, the authors claim that independent disability studies departments are essential to the growth of the field. We believe that this claim forms a significant platform for debate, given the interdisciplinary nature of disability studies and the changing intellectual geography of universities in which departments are being dismantled and reshuffled as institutes and cluster areas. How does disability studies maintain its interdisciplinary identity and vigor if it is remanded to live in a department? If it does not reside in a departmental structure, how does it survive? Should disability studies attempt to be a discipline or follow the lead of research methods which are fundamental to all disciplines and fields even though practiced differently in each? How might disability studies look and provoke thought if integrated into diverse fields? Might it get lost, would it become seminal to fields that study human phenomena and environments, and/or would it be adorned and augmented by its presence within larger domains of scholarship? How can or should disability studies dance with and enrich other traditional and emerging interdisciplinary intellectual domains such as performance, design and branding, economics, post-postmodern schools of thought and even professional studies? How should disability studies scholarship look in diverse geographies, nations, spaces? How much control should be asserted over disability studies content and structure? If disability studies moves to prescription sufficient for measurement and accreditation, is it disemboweled of creativity and its potency for evoking social change?

We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this critical dialog and hope that the structure of presentation followed by commentary be a model for intellectual development and advancement in disability studies.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Stephen Gilson, Elizabeth DePoy



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