PhD Dissertations

2020 PhD Oral Defences

Evelyn Kissi

Dissertation Title: Sankofa: Disability and the Door of Return

Committee Members: (Supervisors) R. da Silveira Gorman (Member) G. Reaume (Member) R. Timothy, (Internal/External Member) G. Mianda, (External) Njoki Wane (from OISE)
Date of Defence: August 6, 2020
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2020




Este Klar-Wolfond

Dissertation Title: Neurodiversity in Relation: An Artistic Intraethnography

Committee Members: (Supervisors) N. Davis Halifax (Member) J. Fisher, (Member) E. Manning
Date of Defence: June 23, 2020
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2020


Josephine Purcell

Dissertation Title: What does a child with a disability really want? An investigation through comics, collaboration, caregiving and quantum physics

Committee Members: (Supervisor) N. Davis Halifax (Member) (Chair) R. da Silveria Gorman (Outside Member) M. Brunch (Member) A. Hudson (Member) C. Rifkind
Date of Defence: July 22, 2020
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2020

Hilda Smith

Dissertation Title: Understanding the Role of Community in Knowledge Mobilisation

Committee Members: (Co-Supervisors) R. da Silveira Gorman & G. Reaume (Externals) M. Johnny & X. T. Nguyen (Outside Member) D. Davidson, (Member) M. Balijko
Date of Defence: March 27, 2020
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2020

2019 PhD Oral Defences

Natalie Spagnuolo

Dissertation Title: Disability, Displacement and the Biopolitics of Belonging

Committee Members: (Chair) M. Marrow, (External) P. Block, (Internal) M. Ladd-Taylor, (Member) R. Malhotra, (Member) J. Stephen, (Supervisor) G. Reaume
Date of Defence: July 11, 2019
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2019
Current Email:

Jenna Reid

Dissertation Title: Materializing a Mad Aesthetic Through the Making of Politicized Fibre Art

Committee Members: (Chair) N. Davis Halifax, (Supervisor) R. da Silva Gorman, (Member) A. Mitchell, (Member) K. White, (Outside Member) C. Chapman
Date of Defence: February 26, 2019
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2019
Current Email:

2017 PhD Oral Defences

Anthony Mapp

Dissertation Title: Modernity, Hegemony and Disability: A Critical Theoretical Exploration of Historical Determinants of Disability

Committee Members: (Chair) N. Davis Halifax, (Supervisor) G. Reaume, (Member) S. Bell, (Member) D. Orr
Date of Defence: December 9, 2016
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2017
Current Email:

Abstract: Adopting a historical analysis methodology, this critical theory dissertation demonstrates how social, economic, political, cultural and intellectual developments associated with the historical period known as modernity gave rise to many of the disabling forms of oppression that continue to exist in contemporary society. The dissertation asserts that an understanding of the ongoing impacts of the past is necessary if progress is to be made in the present and future tasks of creating a more egalitarian and inclusive society. Because modernity has been understood in many different ways using very distinct criteria, this research project begins by clarifying the work’s use of the term. Drawing upon extensive Critical Disability Studies literature as well as Gramscian, postmodern, psychoanalytic, Marxist and feminist frameworks of analysis, this dissertation then explores the hegemonic role of the white, able-bodied, heterosexual male in perpetuating oppressive aspects of modernity such as hierarchy, inequality, dehumanization and the psychology of domination. Embracing a broad definition of disability, the dissertation exposes modernity’s disabling impacts on women,Jewish people and members of the black, gay and disabled communities. In addition to exploring the past roots of contemporary forms of disability, this research project examines contradictory elements within modernity that have the potential to promote positive social change. The final section of this dissertation suggests that the concept of community has the potential to add to disability discourse by generating counterhegemonic perspectives and social policies that support equality, inclusion and social justice for all those social groups that have been subjected to the disabling impacts of hegemonic power in the modern era.

Jessica Vorstermans

Dissertation Title: Theorizing Encounters with Southern Disabled Others: The Reproduction of Disablement in International Experiential Service Learning and Global Citizenship Education and Invitations for Disruptions

Committee Members: (Chair) N. Davis Halifax, (Supervisor) R. Gorman, (Member) I. Killoran, (Member) R. Trilokekar
Date of Defence: August 31, 2011
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2017
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Abstract: In this study I seek to understand the way disability is employed to work towards the construction of normative subject making in the field of International Experiential and
Service Learning and Global Citizen Education (IESL and GCE). I theorize the way disability is constructed and responded to in IESL and GCE programs through interventions into the lives of disabled people. I explore how certain bodies are imagined as needing protection, care and interventions and other bodies are imagined as entitled to do that labour. I argue that these pedagogical processes reproduce certain subjectivities under Capital; and I
query the ways in which the imagined Southern disabled body is integral in constituting Northerners able-bodied global citizenship identity.

I then turn to a case study analysis of a small Canadian IESL organization, Intercordia
Canada, founded by Jean Vanier. I ask whether it functions as an alternative relational model that creates a space for new ways of imagining relationships of mutuality with the disabledother in the South (Springer 2016). I argue it operates as a critical pedagogy, with an emphasis on relationships across difference and encounters of mutuality as a place that
invites Northern and Southern participants to engage meaningfully with each other. I use this case study as a way to get at the tensions and cracks in neoliberal education. I am not
interested in countering the dangerous and damaging IESL and GCE narratives with ‘good’
ones. I am interested in exploring the complexity of working with young people in this space, and identifying moments of disruption to the reproduction of disabling narratives.

I draw from interdisciplinary fields, including critical pedagogy, critical IESL and GCE, critical disability, critical feminist and postcolonial theory to understand this complex and diverse space. I ask how we can envision this space in different ways, rejecting simplistic binaries and disabling discourses that marginalize and oppress certain subjectivities while celebrating others. This study extends the critical scholarship by employing critical disability theory to think through these encounters through in different ways, understanding how the disabled Southern other is essential in the forming of caring able-bodied Northern global citizens, imagined as desired subjects in the current phase of capitalism (Vrasti 2012). The critical literature in this field has thus far built a very rich and textured intersectional analysis using gender, race, class, but the attention to disability has yet to be taken up. Decolonization of this space cannot be realized without a radical consideration of disability and impairment.

This study takes up two broad fields of inquiry. Firstly, I ask how disability is utilized in the broad mainstream neoliberal field of IESL and GCE programs as a depoliticized and individualized fixed identity embodied in an imagined Southern othered body that can be cared for, intervened on and helped to constitute the imagined able-bodied, caring, benevolent, and helping global citizen from the North. I then work through alternative ways of imagining the Southern disabled other, through a case study exploration of the critical pedagogy of Intercordia Canada and through interviews with its student participant alumni and mentors. I completed semi-structured qualitative interviews with former Intercordia Canada student participants and mentors who accompanied student participants in the program.

All of the research participants were Northern student participant alumni of Intercordia, had completed the program between 2012 and 2014 and lived with host families and worked with small grass roots NGOs in various countries in the Global South for three months. They came from diverse identity positions and were geographically spread across the country.

Through the narratives of the Intercordia student participant alumni, I identified four areas of disruption to the disabling and uncomplicated IESL and GCE narratives of encounters with Southern others; vulnerability and mutuality as disruptions, disruptions to disability as individual and I explored their own responses to disruptions from the Southern other. I end by exploring the themes of uncertain subjectivities and future(s), speaking to the
uncertainty that Intercordia student participants were left with after the program, which I
contend signals to the unstableness of difficult learning.

My interviews with Intercordia student participants demonstrated that even programs
with critical pedagogies are not attending to disability in a critical way. Student participants are not equipped with the analytical and theoretical tools to understand encounters with the disabled Southern other in ways that uncover complex disablement and the production of impairment. The narratives from Intercordia student participants demonstrated disruptions into normative learning that reproduces disablement; their narratives included attention to larger structures that disable and oppress Southern others, but their learning did not include the uncovering of the production of impairment. This uncovering needs analytical tools that the Intercordia model does not employ. There is fertile ground for deeper, more intersectional learning to be integrated into the Intercordia model. The lack of a focused Critical Disability lens means that those who enter into the space of being open to unknowing, to receiving the Southern other as teacher and knowledge-holder do not have the skills to engage in a more complex critical disability analysis.

This study ends by taking up four ways that this uncovering can be facilitated: that international experiences need to be proceeded and followed by academic courses that are housed in critical and intersectional programs of study like Critical Disability Studies; vulnerability and mutuality must be integrated into pedagogy; there is a need for deeper preparation with Southern hosts to allow them to challenge Northern students when they engage in hurtful or damaging ways, this preparation needs to be driven by their needs and desires, to deepened their participation; and pedagogy needs to be uncomfortable and destabilizing, with Intercordia’s model of mentorship in placement is posited as a way to facilitate and support this. Opportunities to destabilize knowledge, ideas of and who can hold knowledge, and the creation of spaces to create new narratives for hope and a future resisting and decolonizing the project of dehumanizing neoliberalism is necessary work for educators to be actively engaging in. Educators in the field must remain unapologetically radical and work towards engaging otherwise.

2016 PhD Oral Defences

Cameron Crawford

Dissertation Title: Untying the Knots: Furthering Decent New Employment After the Advent of Work-Limiting Disability

Committee Members: (Chair) N. Davis Halifax, (Outside Member) C.J. Graham, (Supervisor) I.M. Killoran, (External) R. Brown, (Member) T.R. Klassen
Date of Defence: April 19, 2016
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2016
Current Email:

Abstract: For many years, people with disabilities have been about two-thirds as likely as people without disabilities to be employed in Canada. The employment rate of some people with disabilities has persistently hovered at around one-third the rate of non-disable people. Financial estimates of the cost of this problem in Canada differ considerably, but are on the order of many billions of dollars annually. The human costs are also major. This issue is enmeshed in a tangle of theories about disablement that can point in very different directions in terms of understanding the nature of the issue, some solutions that would address it, and the policy and program implications. For example, there is the interplay between disability and people's age, gender, visible minority and Aboriginal person status. Different rates of employment flow from whether people experience impairment effects in the areas of mobility, seeing, hearing, cognition or emotional well-being; many people contend with impairment effects across several functional domains. People's geographic locations and the vagaries of regional economies need to be factored into the picture, as do the effects of social assistance and other income support programs. People's employment history, their needs for job accommodations, and whether those needs have been addressed, are crucial considerations that can vary according to type of disability, the nature of the work to be performed, and employer attitudes, values and fiscal capacity. People's educational attainment and job-specific skills training also have a major bearing on employment trajectories. This research begins to untie the knot that binds these factors into an often-confusing conceptual, policy and program tangle. It identifies some of the key factors that most strongly predict whether people are likely to obtain "decent work" with their first employer or with a new employer after the advent of work-limiting disability. An aim of the research is to suggest areas for focusing policy and program efforts in order to maximize positive employment outcomes for such individuals, employers and the broader employment 'system'. The research draws extensively from scholarly and administrative literature and from Statistics Canada's Canadian Survey on Disability of 2012.

2014 PhD Oral Defences

Madeline Burghardt
Dissertation Title: Narratives of separation: Institutions, families, and the construction of difference
Committee Members: (Chair) M. Rioux. (Supervisor), G. Reaume (Member) N. Groce
Date of Defense: June 13, 2014
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2014
Current e-mail:

Abstract: This project explores family relationships and understandings of disability when a family member, labelled intellectually disabled, is institutionalized for an extended period of time. Thirty-six in-depth interviews were conducted with members of several families, including parents, siblings, and those who were themselves institutionalized in Ontario, Canada in the decades following World War II. Participants expressed divergent understandings of institutionalization’s impact on the family; interpretations were dependent on one’s emotional and social location in relation to institutionalization. Findings demonstrate how institutionalization affected relations of power within the family, and the significant role that discursive constructions of intellectual disability have had on participants’ understandings of disability and of each other.

Gillian Parekh
Dissertation Title: Social citizenship and disability: Identity, belonging, and the structural organization of education
Committee Members: (Chair) R Brown, (Supervisor) R. Gorman, (Member) I. Killoran.
Date of Defence: July 24, 2014
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2014
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Abstract: Drawing upon critical disability, transnational, and citizenship theory, this thesis proposes employing a new framework of analysis, centralizing the experience of social citizenship and belonging as an indicator of broader structural equity. Situated in the field of education, theoretical considerations query how growing market fundamentalism contributes to the systematic exclusion of historically marginalized identities in school. This body of work includes three related studies exploring historical and current incidences of institutional exclusion. Results provided quantitative evidence of the social construction of disability categories and demonstrated increased exclusion for racialized students, students living in poverty, and students identified with exceptionalities.

Joanna Rankin
Dissertation Title: Chatter that Matters: A new path to progressive understandings of disability through the online discussion of popular novels
Committee Members: X (Chair); Prof. Jay Dolmange (External); Prof. Eva (Internal); Prof. John Radford (Supervisor); Prof. Marcia Rioux (Member); Prof. Beth Haller (Member).
Date of Defence: October 27, 2014
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2014
Current email:

Abstract: Looking to the novel as a source of information for real lives, this paper investigates the role of the popular culture book club and the informal discussion of novels in the recognition of and response to disability in contemporary society. The sample included in this research looks at both the novels chosen for the Oprah’s Book Club as well as readers’ online posts about characters with disabilities. The online, middlebrow discussion of novels is assessed as a productive and developing public sphere related to the discussion of disability. Within this context readers demonstrate their interest in and ability to challenge ideas about disability.

2013 PhD Oral Defences

Jennifer Rinaldi
Dissertation Title: Autonomy, Equality, and Respect for Difference: Investigating Principle-Based Approaches to Technologically Mediated Reproductive Contexts
Committee Members: (Chair) Nancy Viva Davis Halifax, (Supervisor) Prof. Roxanne Mykitiuk, (Member) B.Katz.
Date of Defense: April 30, 2013
University, Degree and Year: York University, PhD, 2013
Current Email:

Abstract: The author explores the formulation of bioethical and jurisprudential principles and their application to reproductive decision-making that incorporates disability diagnostic technologies. She considers whether the use of autonomy rhetoric to frame reproductive issues carries the implication that women are presumed to have personal responsibilities in relation to pregnancy especially when fetal impairments can be or have been diagnosed. She goes on to investigate conceptualizations of equality, applied both to access to reproductive services and ableism when those services are used to yield a diagnosis of disability. Finally, the author develops a feminist poststructural framework, an alternative to a principle-based approach, which calls for respect for difference.