University of Malta

PCPinto Keynote
UOM Main Page
Campus Map button

When academia meets activism: The place of research in struggles for disability rights
Paula Campos Pinto1


Disability Studies was founded on a close relationship between academia and the disability movement (Oliver & Barton, 2000).  Yet, in the difficult times we are facing of austerity (Pinto & Teixeira, 2012) and the neoliberal university (Ball, 2015) these links are not always easy to maintain, let alone to boost and thrive. 

In this paper I develop a personal reflection on the place of research in current struggles for disability rights and the tensions and possibilities that arise from engaging in emancipatory disability research. 

The presentation is divided in two main sections. First, I provide a brief outline of the nature, purpose and outcomes of both research and activism. Using Bourdieu’s concept of field, I look at how the academic and activist fields are structured by different rules and modes of symbolic and material recognition that can sometimes come into conflict, particularly in current times of neoliberalism and austerity. Then, I turn to my work on disability rights monitoring to illustrate some of the tensions that arise when attempting to develop emancipatory (Barnes, 2001 ) and activist research (Hale, 2001) but also the possibilities that this approach has opened up for disability rights struggles in Portugal.  

I argue that emancipatory research that exposes the discrimination that disabled people experience in their everyday lives is today ever more needed to support local and global struggles for disability rights and a full inclusive society.


Ball, S. (2015). Living the neo-liberal university. European Journal of Education, Vol. 50, No. 3, 2015. DOI: 10.1111/ejed.12132. 

Barnes, C. (2001).   Emancipatory’ Disability Research: project or process? Public Lecture at City Chambers, Glasgow. Available at 

Hale, C. (2001). What is activist research? Items (Social Science Research Council), 2(1‒2), 13‒15. Available at 

Oliver, M. & Barton, L. (2000). The emerging field of disability studies: A view from  Britain. Paper presented at the conference “Disability Studies: A Global Perspective”. Washington D.C. Available at

Pinto, P.C. & Teixeira, D. (2012). Avaliação do impacto dos Planos de Austeridade dos Governos Europeus nos Direitos das Pessoas com Deficiência: Relatório de Portugal. Available at


1Associate Professor
CIEG/  ISCSP –Ulisboa

Last Updated: 11 April 2018

Log In back to UoM Homepage