Cassandra Hartblay

Dr. Hartblay, a person with wavy brown hair looking at camera wearing a white shirt and black blazer
Assistant Professor
Director, Centre for Global Disability Studies
Telephone number
Building HL 222


Dr. Hartblay joined the faculty in 2018 following postdoctoral appointments at Yale University and the University of California San Diego.

Her research is focused on the moral and cultural dimensions of disability as social difference. Dr. Hartblay is a cultural and medical anthropologist, playwright, and scholar of health humanities, critical disability and ableism studies, and queer/feminist studies. Her area of expertise includes the Russian-speaking former Soviet Union.

Dr. Hartblay’s first book, I Was Never Alone (University of Toronto Press 2020), presents a playscript based on ethnographic interviews with adults with disabilities in Russia, along with an essay reflecting on the work of staging the play. The play was developed and performed at Yale University, UC San Diego’s Theatre District, and UNC Chapel Hill.

Dr. Hartblay’s book manuscript in progress, Global Access Friction, explores how disability advocacy takes on different meanings across global contexts, and how accessible design takes on unexpected social meanings that contribute to its spread in the specific context of Northwest Russia in the 2010s. This work is based on a multi-year ethnographic project funded by the US National Science Foundation investigating disability as a sociopolitical identity and the politics of accessible design in the context of global postsocialism and post-Soviet infrastructure.

Since coming to UTSC, Dr. Hartblay has been an active participant in advancing the Health Humanities in teaching and research. She is a contributing member of the Flourish Collective, including co-curating and presenting the Critical Design Lab’s #CripRitual contemporary art exhibition. She teaches a fourth-year health humanities workshop in which students create their own original documentary or memoir work that engages a critical issue in health, wellness, or disability through a social or political lens.

In addition, Dr. Hartblay is a founding member of the Centre for Global Disability Studies, a research centre based at UTSC bringing together scholars from across the three UofT campuses to promote critical anti-ableist anti-colonial disability studies research and present public-facing events at the cutting edge of this field. Dr. Hartblay served as the centre’s inaugural director. Dr. Hartblay is also working with colleagues across UTSC to develop courses in disability ableism studies across the humanities and social sciences. 


Ph.D, M.A., Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

B.A., Bachelor of Arts, Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota



  • Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)
  • American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR)
  • Society for Disability Studies (SDS)
  • NWSA
  • American Anthropological Association (AAA)
    • Soyuz: Postsocialist Research Interest Group
    • Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA) 
    • Disability Research Interest Group (Steering Committee, 2014-2016)
    • Association for Queer Anthropology 
    • American Ethnological Society
    • Society for Cultural Anthropology


Teaching Interests

  • Health Humanities
  • Global Disability Studies
  • Medical Anthropology / Disability Anthropology
  • Performance Studies
  • Decolonizing postsocialism
  • Queer / Crip / Feminist Studies
  • Health, Disability & Critical Design
  • Qualitative and arts-based methods

Research Interests

  • Health Humanities
  • Ethnography 
  • Critical Disability Studies
  • Performance Ethnography, Research Creation, and arts-based inquiry
  • Critical Design Studies / Anthropology of Design and Infrastructure
  • Medical Anthropology 
  • Health and socialism / postsocialism 
  • Russia and the former Soviet Union
  • Russo-Finnish borderlands 
  • Whiteness, Ethnicity, and Debility
  • Queer/Feminist Transdisciplinary Research
  • Documentary practices
  • Critical social theory
  • Epistemology


Awards and Grants


2019-2020 University of Toronto Connaught New Researcher Award

2016 UC San Diego Frontiers of Innovation Scholarship (FISP)

2015 Summer Research Scholar, Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC.

2013 Irving K. Zola Award for Emerging Scholars in Disability Studies

2010-2013 Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) for Cultural Anthropology, National Science Foundation of the USA.



I Was Never Alone or Oporniki: An Ethnographic Play on Disability in Russia University of Toronto Press, 2020.

“Disability Expertise: Claiming Disability Anthropology.” Current Anthropology, Wenner-Gren Symposium Series. S21: February 2020.

"After Marginalization: Pixelization, Disability, and Social Difference in Digital Russia." South Atlantic Quarterly. 118(3): July 1 2019.

Keywords for Ethnography and Design.” Edited collection with Joseph D. Hankins and Melissa Caldwell for the ‘Theorizing the Contemporary’ series on the Cultural Anthropology website. March 2018.

“This is not thick description: Conceptual art installation as ethnographic process.” Ethnography 19(2): 2018.

“Good Ramps, Bad Ramps: Centralized Design Standards and Disability Access in Urban Russian Infrastructure.” American Ethnologist 44(1): January 9 2017.

"Disabling Structures: Perspectives on Marginalization in a Russian Cityscape," Landscapes of Violence 3(1) 2015. 

*this is a photo essay that combines text and photographs, compiled as a large, image-based PDF file; please message me if you would like a text-based version of this publication with image descriptions.

"Welcome to Sergeichburg: Disability, Crip Performance, and the Comedy of Recognition in Russia" in Journal of Social Policy Studies 12(1) 2014. In English and Russian translation.

"A Genealogy of (post-)Soviet Dependency: Disabling Productivity."  2013 Zola Award Article, Disability Studies Quarterly, 34(1), 2014.