Historical Epistemology as Disability Studies Methodology: From the Models Framework to Foucault’s Archaeology of Cure

  • Aimi Hamraie
Keywords: disability, historical epistemology, archaeology, History of Madness, cure


In this article, I argue for historical epistemology as a methodology for critical disability studies (DS) by examining Foucault’s archaeology of cure in History of Madness. Although the moral, medical, and social models of disability frame disability history as an advancement upon moral and medical authority and a replacement of it by sociopolitical knowledge, I argue that the more comprehensive frame in which these models circulate—the “models framework”—requires the more nuanced approach that historical epistemology offers. In particular, the models framework requires greater use of epistemology as an analytical tool for understanding the historical construction of disability. Thus, I turn to Foucault’s History of Madness in order to both excavate one particular archaeological strand in the text—the archaeology of cure—and to demonstrate how this narrative disrupts some of the key assumptions of the models framework, challenging DS to consider the epistemological force of non-medical fields of knowledge for framing disability and procedures for its cure and elimination. I conclude by arguing that DS must develop historical epistemological methodologies that are sensitive to the complex overlays of moral, medical, and social knowledge, as well as attend to the social construction of scientific and biomedical knowledge itself.

Author Biography

Aimi Hamraie
Aimi Hamraie is Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health, & Society at Vanderbilt University. Their historical and philosophical research focuses on contemporary disability and feminist theories, histories and philosophies of science and technology, and universal design and accessibility.
Special Issue: New Work on Foucault and Disability