Call for Papers

Special Issue of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies

26th Mar 2018

Special Issue of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies:

Shapes and Sites of Transinstitutionalization


In the parts of Turtle Island now known also as Canada, current discourses of transinstitutionalization impact Mad, Deaf[1], and Disabled peoples in different ways and in different contexts. For many, the practice of institutionalizing Mad, Deaf, and/or Disabled people is too often assumed to be obsolete; a past “treatment” approach rooted in outdated understandings of medical care and body/mind difference. Indeed many institutions that once confined Mad, Deaf, and/or Disabled people in Canada are closing or closed, organized around shorter-term stays. Yet, disabled people still experience institutionalization and institutional-style conditions in their daily lives. The persistence of these conditions in the lives of Mad, Deaf, and/or Disabled people is often referred to by Disability Studies scholars as transinstitutionalization.  

Within Canadian disability scholarship, the precise definition of transinstitutionalization shifts in relation to time period, geography, and community. Loosely, there are three ways in which transinstitutionalization is mobilized. First is the transfer of Mad, Deaf, and Disabled people from large state-run institutions to, and between, prisons, rooming houses and hospitals over the last sixty years (e.g. Simmons, 1990; Ignagni, 2011; Fabris and Aubrecht, 2014). Second, transinstitutionalization refers to the making of institutional-like conditions in spaces of “community-based” care such as day centers, boarding homes, and schools (e.g. Spagnuolo, 2016). The third use of the term is less straightforward, but equally rich: the elusive ways in which the institution lingers through, and is written out on, Mad, Deaf, and Disabled bodies outside of the existing edifices of confinement and control (e.g. Fabris, 2011; Haley, 2017).

This third mobilization of transinstitutionalization captures the nebulous arrangements of neoliberal social service policies and practices spread across the state, market, and non-profit sector, and embodied in lived experiences. As with other aspects of transinstitutionalization, the dense, knotted arrangement of social services is confining and controlling bodies labelled as “disabled,” shaping how we live, play, work, study, and travel; how we speak/sign and identify; how family lives are constructed; and, how we form our subjectivities and communicate these to ourselves and others. Entwined within this web of structures and experiences of transinstitutionalization are colonialism (settler and/or otherwise), racism, cisheteropatriarchy, gendered violence, socioeconomic poverty, and anti-immigration sentiments. 

We recognize that discourses of transinstitutionalization can impact deaf people in negative ways. Deaf institutions of learning were and continue to be sites of linguistic and cultural production enabling deaf people to exercise their own forms of resistance within and beyond the institutions in which they are educated. The dismantling of schools for the deaf and the focus on integrating deaf people into hearing institutions results in the removal of the opportunity for the very biosociality (Foucault, 1988; Friedner, 2010) which undergirds the development of language and collectivist culture. With a view to enabling deaf people to be fully active participants in society (Emery, 2009; Ladd, 2011), transinstitutionalization concerns the ways in which the social relational model of deaf childhood (Snoddon & Underwood, 2014) is enacted in community spaces. Hence, the focus is on how deaf spaces are created within or limited by the processes and practices of transinstitutionalization.

We propose that scholars and activists are observing, and accounting for, unexpected aspects of transinstitutionalization across Canada. To date, this literature has not been gathered in one place thus frustrating our understanding of transinstitutionalization and foreclosing some opportunities for intra-national solidarities, learning, and resistances.

This special issue of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies aims to contribute to the creative and intellectual processes of mapping contemporary landscapes of transinstitutionalization across the bounded territory of Canada. We invite scholars, activists, self-advocates, community members, artists, and designers to draw attention to their own engagements with transinstitutionalization in relation to the themes below, or other themes not listed.

We welcome articles (6,000 words max) and shorter commentaries including, but not limited to, current topics interventions (e.g. policy commentary, news story commentary), creative writing and personal reflections (3000 words max) as well as artistic representations such as poetry, artwork, photography, and other new, subversive forms.


Possible themes to consider include:

Histories of transinstitutionalization

Transinstitutionalization as an ongoing colonial practice, settler and/or otherwise

Immigration, migration, and transinstitutionalization (e.g. detention, denying disabled applicants, limited access to supports for immigrants and migrants labelled disabled by the state)

Income support programs, policies, and practices as extensions/mechanisms of institutional control (e.g. workfare, “impairment” verification)

Intimate life (e.g. sex, romance, biological reproduction, adoption, parenting etc.) as it is experienced under surveillance

Educational systems as transinstitutionalizing (mandatory leave policies in post-secondary institutions, academic streaming in public schools etc.)

Substitute decision making processes

Child apprehension and/or policed parenting

ASL/LSQ access barriers as an extension of oralism and its infrastructure

Dominant recovery discourses as transinstitutionalizing

Supportive housing and other domestic interventions such as hospitalization, transitional housing, and others

Carceral interventions including policing, imprisonment, institutionalization, and community treatment orders

The location of Mad, Deaf, and Disabled peoples within in the structures of paid and unpaid work under capitalism

Research ethics considerations in institutional contexts (e.g. accounts of university/college based research)

Transitions from institutionalization to transinstitutionalization (e.g. from institutions to community-based housing)

Narrative and poetic responses, and first-person accounts of transinstitutionalization

Activist, self-advocacy, and user-led responses to transinstitutionalization


We encourage contributors to document on-going transinstitutional practices/experiences and to engage with possibilities for change.


Due date

Submissions are due July 1st, 2018. Please submit electronically in Microsoft Word format (or, if sending images, according to the specifications outlined in link below) as an email attachment to the special issue’s guest editors Tobin LeBlanc Haley and Chelsea Temple Jones at Inquiries can be sent to