June 30, 2021

Researcher examines intersection of race, disability and gender within social work

Grad student explores how ableism, racism and colonialism shape experiences within social work
Maimuna Khan
Maimuna Khan

Maimuna Khan was not planning on pursuing graduate school, but the mentors she connected with throughout her Bachelor of Social Work encouraged her to reconsider.

“If not you, then who?” is a sentiment that Khan, BSW’19, recalls resonating most with her.

Khan’s graduate research, for which she was recently awarded a prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant, explores the ways in which ableist, racist and colonial discourses shape the experiences of Muslim women who identify as “disabled” and/or “mad” while accessing and using social work services.

Her research is inspired by transnational feminist research and rooted in critical disability and mad studies. Mad studies is a relatively new field of scholarship named by a senior research fellow at Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies. These research frameworks provide an important critical lens that evaluates what disability means, what disabled and non-disabled bodies look like, and, further, asks questions such as what defines “madness” and a “normal” body/mind.

Research as an act of resistance

"This research is an act of resistance within the context of social work and the dominant discourses, practices and research that we typically see," says Khan.

Khan’s research uses identity-first language, which allows individuals the opportunity to claim an identity for themselves and recognize it as an inherent part of who they are — whether or not they fit into the normative boundaries associated with these terms.

“I’m looking for the ways in which social workers are implicated in the construction and perpetuation of dominant discourses and specifically — and more importantly — looking at how disabled and mad Muslim women resist those dominant discourses and what kind of resistance is enacted through ways of being, but also ways of navigating social work and their relationship to social work,” says Khan.

Gaps in literature

Her interest in this research began while completing her BSW as she found herself interested in the exploration of race, disability and gender. Khan found that existing academic literature in social work explored these topics noncritically and exclusively of one another, and became curious about the ways in which they intersected and how these intersections impact the individuals that are part of these groups.

“As someone who has experienced ableism and sanism within social work spaces, I felt that there wasn’t much representation for people who wanted to do this work or felt it was important,” says Khan.

Her research involves a critical discourse analysis of semi-structured interviews with self-identifying disabled and mad Muslim women, as well as with social workers who self-identify as having experience working with them. Receiving the SSHRC grant provides financial flexibility and will provide Khan with the opportunity to focus on her research and provide participants with an honorarium.

Community of supporters

“I've been working so hard and … the recognition feels really good and really validating,” says Khan. “It's important for me to recognize the community of people behind me that have helped me get here; this wasn’t done in isolation. If it weren’t for the community of people behind me that uplifted me, I don’t think that I would be here.”

Khan is currently in her thesis year and hopes to continue her research by pursuing a PhD.