Calculated based on number of publications stored in Pure and citations from Scopus
1993 …2023

Research activity per year

Personal profile


My research activities have established innovative new lines of enquiry in a range of areas.

The most enduring subject of enquiry for me has been the development of the concept of intellectual disability. In 1996 I published the first article in any mainstream sociology journal on the 'principle of normalisation' – Normalisation and the psychology of 'mental retardation', Sociological Review. 44, 1, pp. 99-118. This paper advanced the novel argument that behavioural psychology in America drove its adoption and reformulation of normalisation.

I recently followed up this line of enquiry with another sociological study of Power, ideology and structure: The legacy of normalization for intellectual disability, 2018, Social Inclusion. 6, 2. This paper highlighted the ultimate uncontrollability of normalisation in the context of its persistent influence on current thinking.

This study provided the platform for another unique perspective on the development of the concept of 'idiocy' in the nineteenth-century. The resulting research monograph – Modernity and the Appearance of Idiocy: intellectual disability as a regime of truth, 2014, Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press – provided a counter both to essentialist views of intellectual disability and social constructionism.

"Such is the force of Simpson’s historical archaeology of intellectual disability…questioning the unquestionable, de-evidencing the self-evident, and consistently seeking for what is beyond the ‘enclosed space’ of what seemingly are the only options for what – politically, ethically, practically – can be done." (Chris Philo)

Most recently, I have produced a conceptual critique of intellectual disability and its place within psychiatry. Hitherto, no-one has attempted a systematic mapping of intellectual disability in the shifting nosology of psychiatry. The resulting critique questions the accuracy of other accounts that place emphasis on the naturalness of the distinction between mental illness and intellectual disability and whether psychiatry can maintain intellectual disability as a conceptual object and target for intervention.

'Idiocy and the conceptual economy of madness', Simpson, M. K., 2018, Intellectual disability: A conceptual history, 1200–1900. McDonagh, P., Goodey, C. F. & Stainton, T. (eds.). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Currently, I have turned by attention to the role and function of disabled bodies in cinema. In addition to two book chapters, I am currently writing a book on the subject to be published by Routledge as part of their Interdisciplinary Disability Studies series – expected publication 2021. Avoiding the more familiar approaches of 'negative imagery' and representation, the studies draw upon diverse theories including those of Lacan, Bataille, Žižek and semiotics to create a non-reductionist account of how bodies actually function in specific films.

Masculinity or Bust: Gender and Impairment in Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Simpson, M., 2017, Phallacies: Historical Intersections of Disability and Masculinity. Brian, K. M. & Trent, J. W. . J. (eds.). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Simpson, Murray (in press) ‘Disability, gender and innocence: Russ Meyer's Mudhoney and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and problems of signification in cinema’, in Ojrzyńska, Katarzyna and Wieczorek, Maciej (Eds.) Strategies of Disability Representation and Inclusion in Contemporary Culture, Leiden: Brill.

In another exciting new development, I am co-editing with Dr Alison Wilde a new book series on Disability, Media, Culture, in partnership with Peter Lang publishers.

Globally today, television, film and the internet comprise the principal sources of cultural consumption and engagement. Despite this, these areas have not featured strongly in the cultural study of disability. This book series will provide the first specific outlet for international scholars of disability to present their work on these topics.

The series will build a body of work that brings together critical analysis of disability and impairments in media and culture. The series expands the work currently undertaken in literary studies on disability by using media and cultural theory to understand the place of disability and impairment in a range of media and cultural forms.

The series encourages the development of work on disabled people in the media, within the media industries and in the wider cultural sphere. Whilst film and television analysis will be central to this series, we also encourage work on disability in other media, including journalism, radio, the internet and gaming.


Currently, I teach the Formation of social work on the BA(Hons) programme in year one, and Understanding and applying research in year three.

The formation of social work highlights for students the importance of understanding the social functions and possibilities of social work within the context of a historical sociology. As such, it reflects my wider interest in the historical formation of social contexts, concepts and practices.

Research interests

Following the completion of two doctoral students recently, I would like to encourage potential applicants interested in the following fields:

  • the critical study of intellectual disability, whether historical, sociological or conceptual;
  • more broadly, any such studies on disability;
  • the cultural study of disability, especially with reference to cinema and media – joint supervision with a colleague from the University's Film Studies team is a possibility here;
  • the philosophy of Social Work.

I am happy to have informal discussions with interested candidates.

If you wish to make contact to discuss topics not on this list based on theoretical approaches in social theory, then please also feel free to make contact. In the past, I have successfully supervised candidates to completion in areas as diverse as:

  • Social work, spirituality and postmodernity;
  • Community development in Pakistan;
  • Nursing and the Third Reich;
  • The development and application of Scottish mental health legislation;
  • Social work constructions of asylum seekers, and others.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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