5 Questions with Dr. Claudia Malacrida

5 Questions with Dr. Claudia Malacrida

Claudia Malacrida is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Lethbridge, specializing in sociology of the body, gender, and disability studies. Her research is focused on two primary areas: disability and sexuality; and childbirth and choice. In each, she is concerned about how seemingly personal and embodied experiences are constrained and produced through public policy, social attitudes and professional practice.

Dr. Claudia Malacrida is the author of three books.

She is the author of three books relating to gender and the body. Cold Comfort: Mothers, Professionals and Attention Deficit Disorder (2003) offers a comparative study of mothering a child with Attention Deficit Disorder in Canada and the UK. Mourning the Dreams: How Parents Create Meaning from Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Early Infant Death (1998) examines the medical response to infant loss, and the gendered reactions of parents. A third book, Sociology of the Body: A Reader (Oxford University Press: 2008) examines more broadly how the body is influenced by and in turn influences social structures and norms. Dr. Malacrida has published extensively on eugenic history and her fourth book, A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta’s Eugenic Years (University of Toronto Press)  is forthcoming in 2014.

Malacrida sits on the board Disability & Society and Qualitative Health Research and holds several major grants, including a SSHRC grant for the Newgenics to Eugenics project, and an AIHS grant for the Childbirth and Choice project.

What first piqued your interest in your research discipline?

My interests in motherhood and disability began through my own personal experiences and grew from there. My early work examined mothers' experiences of seeking support and information to help their children with Attention Deficit Disorder in Canada and the UK. I found that much of mothers’  experiences depended on non-medical and non-psychiatric resources, such as educational and teaching training or community support groups. Comparing these two countries enabled me to see different ways of dealing with children's challenges. This led to me to understand disability as a social problem rather than necessarily a psychiatric or medical one. I have since those early days studied mothers who have disabilities in Canada and the UK, and I am now comparing historical and present-day practices relating to disability and sexuality. I find each new study opens avenues to understanding that disability is as much a problem of policy and attitudes as anything else.

My research is deeply concerned with the way our bodies are influenced and effected by social policies and practices. Thus, in addition to working on issues relating to women with disabilities, I am engaged in a major project that examines the culture of birthing in Alberta. We understood that C-section rates vary considerably across the province, so for the past year my research team has been engaged in interviews with mothers, midwives, doctors and educators about birth and choice - comparing birthing cultures in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton.

How is your research applicable in “the real world”?

In both the disability-related research and the birthing project, we seek to include practitioners in the research, and to report our findings to them as we proceed with the work. Our birth project findings are important to birth practitioners and parents alike, and our research collaborators include organizations involved in direct delivery of medical services. The disability projects have been useful in shifting ideas and policies at the agency level.

What is the greatest honour you have received in your career?

I've been able to access good research funding and satisfying recognition within the academy, however, I am happiest when someone tells me that my work has made a difference to them personally - either in their lives at home with family, or in their workplace practices. When women tell me that I've captured an important aspect of their lives, or when disability workers or teachers tell me that I've made them think a bit differently about their work, I feel that I've done something right.

How important are students to your research endeavours?

I have always worked with undergraduate and graduate students on my work, and I publish with many of them as well. This provides good training opportunities for my students, but it also enriches my own work by providing multiple perspectives. My student colleagues are passionate, smart and engaged, and I consider it one of the privileges of my job to be able to provide mentorship along the way.

If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest?

Qualitative work is, in fact, not particularly expensive to conduct. Thus, if I had unlimited funding, I would probably like to see it go to student researchers on the team, and perhaps to expand the research to international comparative sites. Comparative research provides us with insight into other ways of doing things, and it can also show us how seemingly 'natural' experiences such as disability or childbirth are in fact highly cultural practices.