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Transdisciplinary Disability Studies (TDS)

Inaugurated in 2016, the Transdisciplinary Disability Studies (hereafter TDS) group contributes to theoretical perspectives and methodological modes that are absent or overlooked in traditional disciplines.

Our research question is:

How does attending to disability as a cultural construct, political status, and embodied way of being in the world orient our methodological and theoretical approaches to the humanities and social sciences - to literature, translation, architecture, design, ethnography, theater, history, and other forms of engaged scholarship?

About Us

The TDS group provides a designated forum for intellectual exchange about critical transdisciplinary disability studies on the UC San Diego campus. Although there are many faculty and graduate students working on disability studies topics at UC San Diego, before the TDS group took shape there was no umbrella group to support transdisciplinary collaboration. A key goal of the group has been to support graduate students working on dissertation projects in disability studies by offering a forum for them to locate one another across departments, and to find and interact with disability studies faculty in other departments and campus units. We see this group as a first step toward eventually developing a cross disciplinary graduate certificate in disability studies – based in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts – at UC San Diego.

The TDS group takes a critical, yet broad, approach to disability, a category that includes cognitive differences as well as physical, sensory, and intellectual or developmental impairments. We seek to examine and expand the possibilities for new inter- and transdisciplinary theoretical models for approaching disability while also assessing and critiquing conventional models for understanding disability. These include the medical model (focused on the body’s so-called pathology) as well as the social model, focused more on environmental and social limitations than on the body of the disabled individual. Understanding disability as an intersectional identity and cultural category opens important opportunities. The transdisciplinary field of disability studies is characterized by distinct disciplinary = contributions: life writing, poetry, memoirs and novels written by people with disabilities in literature; = cultural studies readings of popular culture texts and media that unpack representations of disability; = ethnography and social science that centers the life experiences with people with disabilities in various social and cultural positions; and historical research that investigates how bodily and mental difference is documented or absent in the historical archive and examines configurations of what is currently called disability in the past.

Recent work in the field (exemplified by the interests of those in the TDS group) has explored the ways in which race and disability are co-constructed as stigmatizing identities; queried the ways in which the built environment serves certain bodies and not others; found resonance with queer theories of = normativity; sought to develop research methodologies that value the contribution and perspectives of = people with intellectual disabilities who are routinely excluded from scholarship; and staked out the = fields of Mad Studies and Neurodiversity (Autistic Pride) which assert a social oppression and pride approach to what is usually understood as psychiatric difference.

Contact Us

Graduate student coordinator Rachel Fox,

Faculty advisors David Serlin ( and Brian Goldfarb (

To join listserv: