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Expert Comment: Making the inclusion of disability studies in the humanities the rule not the exception

David Bolt 150 x 150 Monday 4 January 2016

While acknowledging that the field of literary and cultural disability studies is growing, Dr David Bolt explains why the recent Symposium of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, and events like it, are essential if the inclusion of disability studies in the humanities is to become the rule rather than the exception.

Here at Liverpool Hope University the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies (CCDS) provides an institutional base for the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (Liverpool University Press) and the book series Literary Disability Studies (Palgrave Macmillan). Given that the journal is approaching its 10th anniversary and the series has started publishing its 1st run of books, I, in my capacity as CCDS Director, recently endeavoured to sustain this progress in the field by organising the Symposium of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies. This was a unique opportunity to explore and exchange new ideas about cultural representations and theories of disability. My premise was that the symposium would provide a space to develop work that ultimately would be submitted to the journal, the book series, or related venues around the world.      

Attendance at the CCDS symposium was free. As such, the event attracted a mix of academics and non-academics; students and staff; and regional, national, and international delegates.

In order to endorse work of the highest quality, the numerous proposals for the event were anonymised and externally reviewed.  The result was that 10 papers were accepted and organised into a panel and chaired by Head of Department of Disability and Education Claire Penketh.

Alongside Hope colleague Ria Cheyne, the UK speakers included Cath Nichols (University of Leeds), Clare Deal (Newcastle University), Dorothy Lehane (University of Kent), Sumaira Khalid Naseem and Lucy Burke (Manchester Metropolitan University), Alex Tankard (University of Chester), and Sue Smith (University of Leicester). We were also pleased to welcome overseas speakers Andrew Sydlik (Ohio State University), Makiko Iseri (University of Tokyo), and James Casey (National University of Ireland).

In the morning’s long panel of short papers, poetry, genre fiction, the novel, Science Fiction and film were all explored with a focus on works such as Wuthering HeightsInside I’m Dancing, and Iron Man. Some of the other topics considered were Phenomenology, Museum Studies, Prosthetics, and Neoliberalism. In the afternoon it was my privilege to lead a group discussion that picked up on some of the morning’s themes.  Accordingly, conceptual issues around stereotypes and models of disability were discussed alongside embodiment and lived experience.  

In order to aid access for people who couldn’t attend, Hope colleague Owen Barden filmed the panel of papers and many of them are now available via his CCDS YouTube channel. CCDS Core Members also covered the symposium on Twitter and Facebook and we also led an evaluation process.

 It is early days – In fact I am writing this comment just one week after the event – but my initial feeling is that the Symposium of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies was a great success.  All the feedback has been positive thus far and I can certainly say that, thanks to everyone involved, the event provided a useful space for the exploration of new work and potential collaborations. The field of literary and cultural disability studies is undoubtedly growing, but events like this one are essential if the inclusion of disability studies in the humanities is to become the rule rather than the exception.

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