Institute of Sociology


This dissertation examines the construction process of the global person category of "persons with disabilities" in the context of international organizations, employing a sociology of knowledge analysis perspective. It argues that the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2006 is not simply the legal recognition of a long-forgotten but objectively identifiable minority group. Rather, the category "persons with disabilities" is a result of historically constructed distinctions - and the distinct group that is now institutionalised in the UNCRPD was brought forth as such at the global level over time (cf. Bennani /Müller 2018, p. 312).
Drawing on theories of human differentiation (e.g. Hirschauer 2017), the dissertation considers categorisations of people as cultural phenomena that are produced by actors through knowledge work and can solidify in documents. The coding of characteristic features as ir/relevant for the attribution of a "disability" is a social construction process, not a "natural" distinction (cf. Waldschmidt/Schneider 2007, p.32). Subsuming people who deviate in various ways from the set physical norm under the collective category of "people with disabilities" is an act of classification that relies on a range of presuppositions. Claiming global validity for a category multiplies the alternatives and ambiguities that need to be managed: In order to group people in the global category of "persons with disabilities", similarities must be accentuated, differences suppressed (cf. Zerubavel 1996, p.424) and certain characteristics classified as relevant across borders of world regions and culturally different ways of life (cf. Bennani/Müller 2019, p. 309). These processes of negotiation and interpretation that go into producing cross-cultural categorical unity are the focus of this research. Furthermore, neo-institutionalist world society approaches (e.g. Krücken/Meyer 2005) are employed to explore the genuinely global logics of these processes.
To this end, the history of the category's emergence and semantic shifts in meaning will be traced by analysing documents produced by international organisations and the debates documented in them. Guided interviews with witnesses of these debates and self-advocates complement the data material to then also examine dynamics between external- and self-description and the role of collective identity for the construction of categories.



Bennani, Hannah; Müller, Marion (2019): “Making up people“ globally. Die Institutionalisierung globaler Personenkategorien am Beispiel Indigener Völker und Menschen mit Behinderungen. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 47 (5), S. 306-331.
Hirschauer, Stefan (2017): Un/Doing Differences. Praktiken der Humandifferenzierung. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft.
Krücken, Georg; Meyer, John W. (Hg.) (2005): Weltkultur. Wie die westlichen Prinzipien die Welt durchdringen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
Waldschmidt, Anne; Schneider, Werner (2007): Disability Studies und Soziologie der Behinderung. Kultursoziologische Grenzgänge - eine Einführung. In: Anne Waldschmidt und Werner Schneider (Hg.): Disability Studies, Kultursoziologie und Soziologie der Behinderung. Erkundungen in einem neuen Forschungsfeld. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, S. 9–28.
Zerubavel, Eviatar (1996): Lumping and Splitting: Notes on Social Classification. In: Sociological Forum 11 (3), S. 421-433.