Disability as Constructed Difference: A Literature Review and Research Agenda for Management and Organization Studies

Jannine Williams, Sharon Mavin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Disability theory and disabled people’s voices have remained marginal in attempts to include a wider range of theoretical perspectives and voices in organization studies. This includes studies of the normative assumptions underpinning socially constructed categories of difference. This paper addresses this gap by reviewing the literature on social categories of difference, intersectional studies and studies across human resource management and diversity literatures. The argument here is that, while research has begun to move from an individualized discourse of disability, disability remains inadequately theorized as a constructed difference. The paper reviews the disability studies literature to identify the relevance of conceptualizing disability for work organizations, problematizes the concepts of disability and impairment and differentiates competing discourses of disability. The contribution of this paper is threefold. First, it offers an alternative social interpretation discourse which argues that disability is constructed as a negated difference through assumed ableism, which is a normative expectation of non-disability. Second, it presents impairment effects as legitimate organizing requirements rather than individualized problems. The paper argues impairment effects, the effects of bodily and cognitive variation, have legitimate implications for how disabled people negotiate organizing contexts. Third, it develops a disability studies lens to advance theoretical approaches to the study of social categories of difference in the field of management and organization studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-179
JournalInternational Journal of Management Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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