Disability and the Sociological Imagination (Allison C. Carey)

Reviewed by Rachael Zubal-Ruggieri

This book is meant to serve as the “first true undergraduate text” for teaching the sociology of disability (Sage Publications Inc.), and the relevance of such a text is that the author, Allison Carey, interweaves theory, methodology, terminology, and more with “bodies of knowledge”—particularly Disabled and Crip knowledge.

Carey frames this text using the “sociological imagination,” demonstrating how “(u)nderstanding disability is fundamentally a sociological task, requiring the use of the sociological imagination…the process by which we recognize the broader social context shaping individual experiences” (Carey 3), thereby recognizing Disabled experiences and making an important contribution to accessible curricula, serving to more adeptly teaching the emerging subdiscipline of the Sociology of Disability.

The aim of the text–its “how” and “why”–is just as important as the information contained within its pages. The content is made as accessible as possible, from the language used to explain complex theories to the format of the text, all while remaining academically rigorous. Carey has done a substantial amount of work to be as inclusive as possible without ever devolving into a long-winded, heavy tome.

Carey’s foundational text “…examines the ways in which major social structures contribute to the production and reproduction of disability, and examines how race, class, gender, and sexual orientation shape the disability experience” (Sage Publications Inc.). Harnessing crucial perspectives such as intersectionality and Disability Justice, Carey’s book also pointedly chooses to share diverse resources–from YouTube videos to blog entries to poetry and prose to memoirs–alongside “traditional” academic content. Notably, a host of Disability-centering materials engaged in emerging volumes that have most recently been designed for instructional purposes have become increasingly “non-academic” (namely, less normatively “scholarly” in verbiage and style); this content likewise appears, more often than not, online or in an accessible electronic format.

The text is divided into three sections: “Building Blocks of the Sociology of Disability” (what is the sociology of disability?, relevant theories, the importance of researching disability, and a historical overview of disability), “The Complex Experience of Disability” (ableism, culture, disability identity, and intersectionality), and “Macro Social Structures and Disability” (family, economy and politics, healthcare, education, criminal justice, and social movements and social change).

Each chapter has a distinct structure: “Learning Outcomes” (likely a required textbook feature), a “Chapter Synopsis,” “Key Terms” (highlighted as clickable links), “Resources“ (often separating academic books and articles from memoirs, blog posts, essays, websites, YouTube videos and more, differing slightly for each subject or chapter), and “Activities” (a way to assess Learning Outcomes and another textbook component). Carey infuses each chapter and the overall curricula with Disabled/Crip knowledge while remaining sufficiently instructive.

The book is also interspersed with black-and-white photographs, illustrative of chapter content. As a visual learner, I appreciate opportunities to connect imagery with concepts, situations, and people. Tables are also included, summarizing relatively complex information, as another form of access (e.g., a table with an overview of theoretical perspectives).

Carey produced this text as a result of her research on Sociology of Disability syllabi (with colleague Najarian Souza). She identifies as a white, nondisabled professor working in the subfield of the Sociology of Disability for more than 20 years. Carey is a sibling of a Disabled person, and has had ”… lifelong exposure to disability politics, systems, and issues” (Carey and Najarian Souza 22). Carey and Najarian Souza point out how the Sociology of Disability has expanded its scholarship over time. As underscored, “Initially a field dominated by white scholars and the experience of white people with disabilities, the field increasingly embrace[s] diversity, intersectionality, and interdisciplinary approaches” (18).

Carey’s text is indeed progressive because it includes such important perspectives. This approach serves as a good example of how nondisabled researchers and academics can teach and write about/on disability and serve as a model for Disabled sociologists, Disabled students, and Crips everywhere. While not explicitly suggested, Disabled sociologists can use the text to take up the mantle of their predecessors, who formulated widely accepted, early disability theory (including work by Barnes, Oliver, Zola, Shakespeare, and more), and continue to build in diverse commitments and perspectives including Disability Justice and intersectionality. (And, of course, Disabled people already write our own texts—“academic” or not.)

Carey’s research points out how most material in Sociology of Disability coursework is either obscure older texts or readings cobbled together from disparate sources. Newer works, such as Carey’s text, “…enable the incorporation of interdisciplinary perspectives, the voices of people with disabilities, and works that are more compelling to undergraduate students” (Carey and Najarian Souza 28).1 Every subject studied at today’s universities should be infused with such compelling content, and while the Sociology of Disability isn’t necessarily a new subject in academia, it is still a relatively newer sub-discipline within sociology. Forming a “real” discipline of examining Disability within sociology is long overdue. This text is a substantial move in the right direction.


  1. While not part of their study, Carey and Najarian Souza questioned the identity of instructors already teaching courses on disability and who may end up using this text, as the dynamics of nondisabled professors holding “academic positions,” places of privilege, “…share the voices of people with disabilities with students but [may] retain the power and economic rewards” (Carey and Najarian Souza 28-29).


Carey, Allison C., and Cheryl Najarian Souza. “Constructing the Sociology of Disability: An Analysis of Syllabi.” Teaching Sociology, vol. 49, no. 1, 2021, pp. 17–31. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X20972163.

Title: Disability and the Sociological Imagination
Author: Allison C. Carey
Publisher: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Date: 2022

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About the Reviewer

Rachael A. Zubal-Ruggieri is the Administrative Assistant of the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach at the Burton Blatt Institute. Mother to an Autistic son, Rachael writes and presents about neurodiversity and autism parenting, seeking to debunk and disrupt traditional representations of “the autism mom.” She is a recent cum laude graduate of the Human Development & Family Science program at Falk College, with a Disability Studies Minor, at Syracuse University (SU). Her research interests include Creative and Design Thinking, Technical Documentation and Usability, Technology and Disability, and Parent and Family Involvement in Education. Rachael has dedicated her career to improving the lives of people with disabilities, including broad-based support to multiple disability rights initiatives on campus, in the CNY area, and nationally, through many grant-funded projects and opportunities and via long-term relationships with community agencies and programs. Rachael worked for over 30 years at the Center on Human Policy at SU. She is a founding member of the university’s undergraduate disability rights organization, the Disability Student Union (DSU). Rachael’s current activities include her roles as Co-Advisor of the Self-Advocacy Network (formerly Self-Advocates of CNY), and as a Board Member of Disabled in Action of Greater Syracuse, Inc. Rachael is also co-creator (with Diane R. Wiener) of “Cripping” the Comic Con, the first of its kind interdisciplinary and international symposium on disability and popular culture, previously held at SU. At conferences and as a guest lecturer, she has for many years presented on the X-Men comic books, popular culture, and disability rights and identities.