Centre for Culture &
                Disability Studies  

Research projects

Are the Daleks disabled? The portrayal of evil in Dr Who…

Disability Studies: Social Encounters, Cultural Representation, and Critical Avoidance

Teacher’s watching: Visual Impairment and the Reduced Significance of Eye Contact in the Seminar Setting

‘She was born a thing’: Disability, the Cyborg and the Posthuman in Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang

Stories from the margins: The voice of the Disability Advisor

The Metanarrative of Blindness: A Re-reading of Twentieth-Century Literary Representations

The path of Least Resistance: A Voice-Relational Analysis of Disabled Students’ Experiences of Discrimination in English Universities

The Starfish Paradigm: Impairment, Disability, and characterisation in Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh”

‘We are both maimed’: Disability and Trauma in Historical Romance

Whose right to choose ?: a  sample in time of opinion regarding the ethics of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis.

The Mediating Influences of Electronic Media on Children’s Conceptions of Disability: A Proto-Text Analysis

 

Are the Daleks disabled? The portrayal of evil in Dr Who…
Laura Waite

Since its arrival on television, Dr Who has captivated and secured an enormous global following. The introduction of the ‘Daleks’ heralded a new chapter in televisual Science Fiction (SF). While the programme has since generated considerable specialised literary and cultural scholarship – for example in respect of SF genre and related tropes – there has been little focus on disability representation. To start to redress this issue, this research explores the construction of the Dalek as an alien and the achievement of this through the viewer’s conflation of disability with evil. If thought of as quasi-human, they can be said to have a number of significant impairments; these include monocular vision, limited mobility and dysphonic staccato speech. The later appearance of Davros confirms and extends the viewer’s perception of this species as in fact truly alien. By human standards again, Davros is even further impaired than his creations: his ‘eyes’ are in fact sightless; he has limited use of one arm (to which the camera ruthlessly draws our attention); his movements might be said to resemble the hypertonic effects of cerebral palsy and his monstrous, ‘hydrocephalic’ head is supported by a brace (which itself gives way to a complex of apparently prosthetic-supportive wiring). The revelation that Davros is actually the creator of the Daleks, and that they serve only to realise his scheme for intergalactic domination further prepares the viewer for a relatively simple and traditional fight. To sustain the efficacy of the plot, the viewer must be in no doubt that this is a profound contest between Good (The Doctor) and Evil (the megalomaniac, Davros). This research explores how representations of disability are used to express - indeed, to characterise – the essence of evil.

Disability Studies: Social Encounters, Cultural Representation, and Critical Avoidance
David Bolt

Cultural Disability Studies is an explicitly interdisciplinary field, synthesising, as it often does, scholarship in both disability and various forms of cultural production. Probing the very point of that interdisciplinarity, this research considers two interrelated questions. Does the study of culture deepen our understanding of disability? Does the study of disability enrich our understanding of culture? Specifically, the friction and avoidance that may result from encounters between people who have impairments and people who do not have impairments are analysed and theorised with reference to the influence of cultural representation. This discussion helps to explain why, increasingly, the established discipline of Disability Studies pertains to cultural factors. But also illustrated is the fact that a critical appreciation of disability can greatly inform the study of cultural representations, be they literary, filmic, artistic, musical, or whatever. The two interrelated questions raise a challenging issue, for although the field of Cultural Disability Studies is undoubtedly growing, it remains generally ignored within the Humanities. In effect, the avoidance that results from some encounters between people who have impairments and people who do not have impairments is duplicated in the academy on a curricular level.

Teacher’s watching: Visual Impairment and the Reduced Significance of Eye Contact in the Seminar Setting
David Bolt

This research is interested in the idea that, in the seminar setting, eye contact between tutor and students is a necessary condition of learning. If eye contact is as important as it is often rendered, what are the implications for tutors who happen to have visual impairments and as such may not respond to visual cues? Might the reduced significance of eye contact in the seminar setting have a detrimental effect on learning? These suggestions are predicated on a cultural construct that is grounded in three interrelated concepts: ocularcentrism, panopticism, and ophthalmocentrism. This hegemonic triad provides the theoretical basis for the research, raising, as it often does, many questions about pedagogy and visual impairment.

‘She was born a thing’: Disability, the Cyborg and the Posthuman in Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang
Ria Cheyne

Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang” (1961) is a text that has transcended its science fiction origins to occupy a significant place in contemporary cultural theory. The narrative of a disabled child who is transformed into a spaceship, this early cyborg fiction has become a touchstone in scholarly work on cyborgs, cyberculture, and the posthuman – a situation largely attributable to Donna Haraway’s discussion of it in her foundational “Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985).
This research offers a disability-informed reading of both McCaffrey’s story and the critical discourses around it.  Responses to the text have either marginalised disability, or interpreted the text as a narrative that is ultimately enabling. Not surprisingly, a reading informed by contemporary work in cultural disability studies demonstrates that the text is firmly situated within a wider tradition of disabling discourses. Rather than attribute previous critical (mis)readings solely to the dominance of ableist culture, the research suggests that there are other significant factors at work – both within and without the text – and that the success of McCaffrey’s narrative is, in fact, predicated upon its ability to discourage a critical engagement with disability issues. 

Stories from the margins: The voice of the Disability Advisor
Laura Waite

This research considers emerging outcomes from an ethnographic study of fifteen disability advisors in Higher Education from seven universities in the Northwest.  Analysis seeks to relate the personal experiences of the advisors to the ‘macro’ policy contexts in which they work.  Points of convergence and divergence expose the often confused ideologies that compete in institutional and professional lives.  Of particular interest is the insight which data give into some of the hidden prejudices sometimes at work behind espoused policies and practices.

The Metanarrative of Blindness: A Re-reading of Twentieth-Century Literary Representations
David Bolt

This research provides a critical reading of literary representations of blindness that is broadly appreciative of personal, social, and cultural aspects of disability, the aim being to contribute to the emerging field that is introducing literary scholars to the growing discipline of disability studies. In order to achieve this aim, the research identifies some of the ways in which the mythology of blindness (a system of myths pertaining to reproduction, dependency, monstrosity, beauty, and suicide among other things) is invoked by twentieth-century writers ranging from J. M. Synge to Brian Friel, from Mary Norton to Susan Sontag, from James Joyce to James Kelman, and so on. While this mythology can be traced back to antiquity, its critique or endorsement in twentieth-century representations warrants special attention because of a resonance with the Anglo-American science of eugenics that betrays evidence of a metanarrative of blindness, as though experiential knowledge could be displaced in favour of a totalising scheme. People who happened to have a visual impairment in the early twentieth-century fell victim to, for instance, institutional segregation in Britain, sterilisation in America, and extermination in Nazi Germany, not to mention the implications of later developments in prenatal testing (the potential to screen out people with a genetic visual impairment), and the research considers the extent to which such practices correspond with the contemporaneous representations of blindness.

The path of Least Resistance: A Voice-Relational Analysis of Disabled
Students’ Experiences of Discrimination in English Universities
Laurence Hopkins

Recent legislation means that it is now illegal to treat a student, for reasons relating to a disability, less favourably than a non-disabled student unless this is justified to maintain academic standards. However, recent research has identified numerous barriers faced by students with disabilities when they attempt to access the higher education curriculum. This research uses a methodology combining life-story approaches with a voice-relational analysis and aims to explore in more detail these barriers by listening to first person accounts from university students with a disability. The students’ narratives suggest that disabled students have to work considerably harder than non-disabled students to overcome a wide range of physical, attitudinal, social, cultural, and political barriers. Students appear to take the path of least resistance by choosing routes where the barriers are least great and it is argued that in this way they are being discriminated against. The research shows that voice-relational methodology is excellent at producing a thorough account of the phenomenological world of these students without neglecting a materialist and cultural analysis of their environment. These insider perspectives are then used to suggest possible improvements to policy and practice in higher education.

The Starfish Paradigm: Impairment, Disability, and characterisation in Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh”
David Bolt

It is a curious fact that some species of starfish can regrow their damaged or lost limbs. In a few cases the limbs contain vital organs, meaning that a whole starfish can regenerate from a single limb. It is also a curious fact that, in the cultural imagination, a person’s impairment tends to be comparably envisaged as an interim step in a narrative that strides toward unimpairment for its very resolution. No matter how marked or unmarked someone’s body might be in terms of gender, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, the prospect of impairment is essentially inescapable and becomes greater with every passing day. Despite this undeniably universal relevance, however, impairment tends to be thought of in dramatic but purely transient terms. Accordingly, many representations follow what this research designates the starfish paradigm, suggesting that the dreams and aspirations of someone who has an impairment rest on some form of cure, as though unimpairment were a necessary condition of success.

‘We are both maimed’: Disability and Trauma in Historical Romance
Ria Cheyne

This research explores the relationship between disability representation and genre conventions in the historical romance subgenre, focusing on the work of bestselling author Mary Balogh. Balogh’s novels frequently feature disabled characters. The study focuses on two novels featuring disabled heroes, The Secret Pearl (2005) and Simply Love (2006). In these novels, the war-wounded hero’s physical trauma is equated with psychological trauma suffered by the heroine. ‘We are both maimed’, as the hero of Simply Love puts it. Yet this recognition of kinship is not enough to ensure the successful conclusion of the romance plot; before the hero and heroine can be permanently united, the hero has to confront his own internalisation of what Carol Thomas terms the psycho-emotional aspects of disability, and understand himself as worthy of the heroine’s love.
Balogh’s use of disability allows her to create a compelling romance narrative, a refreshing antidote to the blandly attractive couples who populate the genre. Equally, though, the conventions of historical romance – particularly its combination of a contemporary sensibility with a setting remote in time – allow her to do particular things with disability representation. Disability is frequently marginalised in romance narratives (rendered invisible by the eyes of love or even cured by love) but in Balogh’s work impairment is accepted as an integral part of the beloved, is a part of everyday life, and disability is located in society as well as in the individual body. Rather than enforcing normalcy, then, Balogh’s novels challenge it.

Whose right to choose ?: a  sample in time of opinion regarding the ethics of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis.
Ann-Marie Jones

At a time when technological advances are outstripping the pace of public discussion and moral debate about new biomedical possibilities, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) has provoked particularly strong responses. A survey of media in the UK reveals that PGD and the selection of embryos are of widespread public interest, coverage ranging from the generally technical and legalistic to those more particular accounts of individuals whose case has come under the scrutiny of the Human Embryo and Fertilisation Authority (HFEA).  It is clear from this survey that the range of value-positions (and hence evidences) is confusing to the lay consumer; indeed, the very terms used in reproductive technology and screening themselves generate confusion.

This research investigates the views of two small samples of people in the UK who might be expected to have an informed interest in PGD. As part of a developing project, the exercise was designed to ‘scope’ positions espoused by two groups both with an academic/professional interest in PGD, though each at collectively different stages in their life/career trajectories.

A primary aim of the research was to explore how the participants made decisions about the moral acceptability of PGD, and to what extent their judgments were expressions of personal and/or professional experience.

The Mediating Influences of Electronic Media on Children’s Conceptions of Disability: A Proto-Text Analysis
Alan Hodkinson

This research examines the picture of disability portrayed in the electronic media presented to primary-aged pupils in England. The study employed proto-text analysis to examine 494 separate electronic resources that contained 4,485 illustrations, 930 photographs, and 59 video clips. The major finding of the research is that the examined media contained a limited picture of disability, one contextualised within medical deficit. The study highlights that the sample of media promoted a social construction of disability based on inexact scholarship, omission, and imbalanced information. The research concludes that inclusive education must confront the resources and facilities that children encounter so as to overcome the current injustice that dominates the electronic media presented to primary-aged pupils.