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Reading Down syndrome: past, present, future?

Wednesday, 27 February 2019 , 2pm
EDEN 036

This is a crucial moment for thinking about the future of people with Down syndrome, considering that 2018 saw the introduction of non-invasive pre-natal testing via the NHS. Evidence from countries such as Iceland suggests that the availability of NIPTs leads to very high percentages of terminations, and disability rights groups have argued that this trend is tantamount to a strategy of modern eugenics (Burch, 2017). This seminar explores the way in which various ‘futures’ of characters with Down syndrome are constructed in a selection of contemporary novels. Dr Davies considers the ways in which certain stereotypes of the condition established by Victorian medical discourses (John Langdon Down; John Fraser and Arthur Mitchell) remain, most troublingly, unchallenged in contemporary fiction. In this sense, we are still dealing with the legacies of the past when dealing with the imagined future of people with Down syndrome. However, as a counterpoint to this pessimistic outlook, the seminar explores the ways in which more experimental contemporary fiction seeks to deploy aesthetic and political innovation to imagine futures defined by agency, dignity, and inclusion.

Helen Davies is Head of English at Newman University. She is the author of Gender and Ventriloquism in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Fiction: Passionate Puppets (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and Neo-Victorian Freakery: The Cultural Afterlife of the Victorian Freak Show (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She is also the co-editor (with Sarah Ilott) of Comedy and the Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak (2018).


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