Centre for Culture &
                Disability Studies  

Culture and Disability: Changing Attitudes.
Seminar Series 2012-13


Mad in Court: Mentally Disabled Pro Se Litigants and the Complex Embodiment of Mind.
Catherine Prendergast 3 Oct 2012

The Bhopal Disaster, Literature and Charity Advertising.
Clare Barker 7 Nov 2012

Colonization, Disability, and the Intranet: The Ethnic Cleansing of Space?
Alan Hodkinson 5 Dec 2012

'Lexism' and the Temporal Problem of Defining Dyslexia.
Craig Collinson 30 Jan 2013

Evaluative Criticism in Cultural Disability Studies: Past, Present, or Future?
Ria Cheyne 27 Feb 2013

Visualizing Disability.
Alice Hall 20 Mar 2013

The Work of Collaborative Illness Narratives.
Stella Bolaki 24 Apr 2013

The Art of Inclusion: Examining the Curious Relationship Between Art and Design Education, Disability, and Special Educational Needs.
Claire Penketh 29 May 2013

"If We were Cavemen We'd be Fine": Recontextualising Dyslexia in a Digitally-mediated Social Network.
Owen Barden 19 Jun 2013


Mad in Court: Mentally Disabled Pro Se Litigants and the Complex Embodiment of Mind.
Despite the recent increase in self-advocacy by people who are mentally impaired, the legal realm is still considered a risky area for self-representation, as though “nothing about us without us” should stop at the courthouse door. To complicate this notion, Prof. Catherine Prendergast presents two cases that demonstrate both the persuasive force and jurisprudential significance of mentally impaired pro se litigation. The contention is that these litigants offer something akin to Tobin Siebers’s notion of “complex embodiment” in the sense that they lend concrete form to the oppressive and flattening abstraction of mental illness. They also provide first-hand accounts of the barriers that hamper inmate efforts to engage in self-expression and advocacy, including limitations on publication rights, and lack of access to materials for writing and research. These accounts finally question the mind-body dualism implied in the notion of “embodiment” itself.

The Bhopal Disaster, Literature and Charity Advertising.
The 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy was the world’s worst industrial disaster. It has killed 25,000 people to date, injured many thousands more, and is still causing sickness and disabilities nearly 30 years later due to toxic chemicals in the city’s groundwater supply. Dr. Clare Barker considers representations of the disabled inhabitants of Bhopal in both charity advertising and literary works relating to the disaster, in particular Indra Sinha’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel Animal’s People (2007). As a former advertising copywriter, Sinha was instrumental in setting up the Bhopal Medical Appeal in the UK and is still involved in its activities. Dr. Barker contends that there is a productive synergy between literature and advertising in the BMA’s campaigns: while disability charities frequently rely on tropes of helplessness and pity, often supported by sensational or sentimental images of disabled children, Dr. Barker argues that the BMA engages with fictional narrative techniques and consequently achieves more empowering representations in its publicity. As a complement to this, Animal’s People contributes to the BMA’s agenda by promoting awareness of Bhopal’s unresolved medical crises while also interrogating the politics of “western” medical aid interventions and problematizing the representational strategies of charity discourse. Dr. Barker considers literature’s role within health activism and points to ways in which literary texts such as Animal’s People might be used to inform the representations of disability and medical aid within charities’ campaign strategies.

Colonization, Disability, and the Intranet: The Ethnic Cleansing of Space?
Dr. Alan Hodkinson analyses teachers’ placement of the 'image' of disability within schools’ intranet sites in England. The image unearthed within these sites is problematic as it does not display a positive or realistic image of disability or disabled people. Dr. Hodkinson employs historical archaeology and colonialism as a theoretic framework to interpret this artifact of disability. Deciphering of the organisation and representation of the disabled indigene unearths a cartography inscribed by the scalpel of old world geometry. Dr. Hodkinson also provides an ethnographic sub script to the creation of a space of possibilities and how this became striated by missionary teachers who colonised this brave new intranet world. The intention is to pursue an argument that the colonisation of this new electronic topos reveals a missionary zeal of teachers to populate this digital space with old world, bigoted ideals of disability and disabled people.

'Lexism' and the Temporal Problem of Defining Dyslexia.
Craig Collinson draws on both philosophy and history to explore the possibility that “dyslexics” can be thought of as being “othered” and defined by the social norms and educational practices surrounding literacy, rather than a biological deficit. As such, the disability of 'dyslexia' changes with time, place, and culture. Craig Collinson proposes an alternative model of dyslexia as a “shadow concept”: that is, dyslexia can be thought of as a concept that is created, required, and disguised by another set of concepts surrounding literacy that define the shape and form of the shadow it casts.

Evaluative Criticism in Cultural Disability Studies: Past, Present, or Future?
With the continuing expansion of cultural disability studies, Dr. Ria Cheyne reflects on the state of the field, considering its origins and development, current situation, and future development.  As the field evolves, how do we conceptualise the relationship between cultural disability studies and disability studies, and between cultural disability studies and the humanities disciplines it draws on?  In particular, Dr. Cheyne focuses on evaluative approaches to representations of disability: those which seek to label particular representations as “positive” or “negative.”  This approach is currently deeply unfashionable, but Dr. Cheyne suggests that it is more prevalent, even in contemporary scholarship, than its general critical disavowal would suggest.  She explores how evaluative approaches to disability representations might be rehabilitated, and argue that they still have a key part to play in the future development of the field.      

Visualizing Disability.
Dr. Alice Hall explores the relationship between disability studies and visual culture. Drawing on works by Tobin Siebers and Susan Sontag, Dr. Hall considers the shifting notions of 'disability aesthetics' in recent critical writing and how these ideas can help us to think more widely about the ethics of representing disabled bodies in twentieth and twenty-first century contexts.

The Work of Collaborative Illness Narratives.
Dr. Stella Bolaki uses a recent memoir, Patrick and Henry Cockburn’s Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story (2011), as a vehicle to address broader theoretical inquiries and cultural debates related to the study of illness narratives, disability studies, and approaches to mental health. Reading the book as a collaborative narrative of illness, Dr. Bolaki starts by examining its formal composition and the ethical dimensions of collaborative life writing more generally. The rest of the paper assesses the strategies used in the memoir to construct a positive identity for the person who is ill and whether they have the capacity to reshape cultural knowledge and static models of schizophrenia that resort to either the pathologizing discourses of medicine or the metaphoric invocations of the “exceptional” schizophrenic (as in the work of the modernist avant-garde and some postmodern theorists, for example). Dr. Bolaki thus raises questions as to the kind of work illness narratives do for people who are ill and for those who seek to understand illness.

The Art of Inclusion: Examining the Curious Relationship Between Art and Design Education, Disability, and Special Educational Needs.
Dr. Claire Penketh explores the intersection of art education in compulsory education in the UK, special educational needs, and disability. The focus of the work is the presence and absence of disability in contemporary art education as social and critical practice.

"If We were Cavemen We'd be Fine": Recontextualising Dyslexia in a Digitally-mediated Social Network.
The discourse of dyslexia is grounded in psycho-medical deficit models. In contrast, this seminar will encourage participants to consider synergies between social models of dyslexia and social models of literacy. It will examine dyslexic students' emerging digitally-mediated literacy practices, adopting a perspective which seeks to challenge the dominant deficit discourse.

This seminar series is held at 2.15pm–3.45pm, in Eden 109, Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom.