I’ve never taken things particularly seriously, either academically or living with muscular dystrophy. Having stumbled into physio—literally, I kept falling over, so they made me go—I started thinking sociologically while in the waiting room. I found that I could do two things at once, picking apart my personal experience of disability while poking holes in the Serious Science of Physical Therapy. Why all this goal setting, why all this paperwork? I had been reading a lot of critical theory, you know, Foucault, Heidegger, and the like, without a place to make sense of it. Though I had never really thought of myself as a disabled person, as I started going through the disability bureaucracy more and more, I found myself asking the same questions, and doing so with these thinkers. Why do we treat disability as we do? Why do we pity people, poke and prod them, but not talk about poverty? Such was my introduction to disability studies, and, it seems, to critical physiotherapy (without knowing it at the time).
Reading through other literature making use of personal accounts of illness and disability, I found I wasn’t alone. Arthur Frank’s At the Will of The Body still has a hold on me to this day. Or Britt Robillard’s fantastic ethnomethodological work on disability jokes, and life in the intensive care unit. Frank’s book was profound, Robillard’s extremely funny. Emotion and passion-free accounts of life with disability didn’t make sense to me, any more than the stiff upper lip of the Serious Science of Physical Therapy.
I moved to Toronto for a postdoctoral fellowship, and lo and behold, someone had read (!) and enjoyed (!!) my paper complaining about physiotherapy. Simply by whining with big words like “ontology” or “ethnomethodology”, I was introduced to Dave Nicholls, to Barbara Gibson, and Jenny Setchell, to qualitative health research, and a whole world of people who felt some unease with the way we lived and worked with health, illness, and disability. Maybe not the same unease, but a shared belief in a necessary change of course. Collaborating through this unease, we have started to chart the clinical treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, to map how clinicians feel about their role in all of this, and asking those questions about emotions and finances that I hadn’t been asked before. My journey through the CPN has been a move from the business end of physical therapy to questioning and reframing, somewhat, the rehabilitation business as a whole. It also landed me my dream job, teaching social theory. I hope I can continue these discussions, and the CPN’s spirit of collaboration, as I join the sociology faculty at Queen’s.
Relevant critical publications:
Abrams, T., Setchell, J., Thille, P., Mistry, B. and Gibson, B.E., (Forthcoming) “Affect, Intensity, and Moral Assemblage in Rehabilitation Practice.” BioSocieties. DOI: 10.1057/s41292-018-0115-2
Abrams, T. (2016). Heidegger and the Politics of Disablement. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Abrams, T. (2014). “Flawed by Dasein? Phenomenology, Ethnomethodology, and the Personal Experience of Physiotherapy”, Human Studies. 37(3). pp. 431-446.
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Location (city/town, country): Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Current position(s): Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University