DRF News

Keynotes Announced for Theorising Normalcy and the Mundane Conference (Sheffield, UK: September 2013)

If you are in any doubt over whether you should attend the Theorising Normalcy and the Mundane: 4th International Conference at Sheffield Hallam University (September 3rd-4th 2013), here is a little taster of what will be on offer.

We are thrilled to announce two of this year’s keynotes speakers:

Dr Clare Barker, Lecturer in English (Medical Humanities) at the University of Leeds, UK will be discussing….

Whose Health? Biocolonialism, Postcolonial Medicine, and Normalcy Across Cultures

Abstract: In the Māori writer Patricia Grace’s novel Baby No-Eyes (1998), an indigenous activist counters arguments about ‘progress’ in genetic science and the benefits of finding ‘answers’ to health ‘problems’ with questions: “whose health problems are we talking about, and answers for who?”. These questions are productive and provocative as they unsettle some of the normalising functions of global biomedical discourses: assumptions that ‘health’ will look and feel the same across different cultures and communities; that we all want to know the same information about our genes and bodies, and aspire to the same goals of bodily function, appearance, and ability; and that advances in medical science will ultimately benefit all of humankind. This paper uses examples from literary texts such as Baby No-Eyes in order to unpack the universalism that underpins concepts such as ‘normalcy’, ‘health’ and ‘ability’. While organisations such as the WHO offer standardised models for measuring ‘health’ and identifying ‘problem’ areas, these texts provide alternative perspectives on what communities themselves perceive as ‘normal’, ‘unhealthy’ or ‘dysfunctional’, and stress the specialist cultural knowledge and resources that often determine how illness, disability, and medical intervention are experienced. Focusing especially on genetic research, the paper will highlight the continuities between extractive colonial practices and contemporary forms of ‘biocolonialism’ – the mining or exploitation of some human bodies (usually in the global South) for the benefit of others (most often, neoliberalised ‘normates’ in the global North). It will end by reflecting on what a postcolonial approach to global health, medicine, normalcy, and disability might look like. An approach that is attentive to cultural difference and specificity, I suggest, can help keep us vigilant about the kinds of normalisation that arise within medical discourse and provide conceptual resources for resisting the tyranny of the normal.

Bio: Clare Barker is the author of Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children, Metaphor and Materiality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) and has co-edited two special issues of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies: ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’ (2010, with Stuart Murray) and ‘Disability and Native American/Indigenous Studies’ (2013, with Siobhan Senier). Her research is situated at the intersection of postcolonial studies, disability studies and medical humanities, and focuses on representations of disability, health, illness, and medicine in world literatures and cultures. She is interested in the ways in which disability, health and illness are constructed in local and global contexts, and how fiction can transform our understanding of embodied difference, medical encounters, and the politics of health. Clare is currently working on two new research projects: one is a collaborative AHRC-funded project on community health and wellbeing in the UK, in which she will focus on the relationship between health and ethnicity in British Asian communities and literatures. The other, tentatively entitled ‘Postcolonial Health: Literature, Medicine, Activism’, will explore the representation of health crises, global biomedical debates, and health-related community activism in postcolonial literatures and film. This will include work on fictional and activist representations of the Bhopal disaster, indigenous responses to the Human Genome Diversity Project, and disability-related protests against the sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

 

Dr Jenny Slater, Lecturer in Education and Disability Studies at the Sheffield Hallam University, UK will be discussing….

The (Normal) Non-normativity of Youth

Abstract: Youth unnerves us. Awkwardly bridging the space between ‘child’ and ‘adult’, we are delivered demonising depictions of young people (hoodies and hooligans), and working out how to deal with these not-quite children but not-quite-adults is high on policy makers’ agendas (Slater, 2013, f.c.). On the other hand, the non-normativity of ‘teenage rebellion’ is considered an ‘identity forming’ rite of passage for young people to cross the border zone between child and adult (Lesko, 2002). We hear, in fact, young people scorned upon for their apolitical, apathetic acceptance of normativity – the youth today a pale reflection of their predecessors (Bennett, 2008).  Even our ever-so reasonable politicians tell us that they “[did] things that teenagers do”, before they “pulled [themselves] up and headed in the right [direction]”  (Cameron in Watt, 2009).

This paper will explore how, through youth, ‘non-normativity’ emerges as a place allowed, indeed expected, as a stage of ‘normative development’. I will argue, however, that it is a stage only permissible to young people fitting neatly into other culturally privileged positions. Furthermore, it must be played out by meeting other societal expectations (‘masculinity’ – lads will be lads; first heterosexual encounters, and so on) which set young people on the path to normative adulthood. Commercialised and commodified ‘what it is to be young’, I argue, is an illustration of the required flexible neoliberal subject; it is okay to be ‘non-normative’ if ‘non-normativity’ can be compartmentalised, as a phase to be grown-out of, and later periodically bought into. Drawing on fieldwork with disabled young people alongside other cultural and media representations of ‘youth’ and ‘youth culture’, I will argue that perceived  ‘non-normativity’ leaves young people not fitting into other culturally priveledged positions much more precariously positioned.

Bio: Jenny Slater is a lecturer in Education and Disability Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. Her doctoral work with young disabled people drew on critical disability studies frameworks to consider cultural constructions of ‘youth’ and ‘disability’. Jenny is interested in how youth and disability ‘play out’ with other intersectional identities, particularly gender and sexuality.

 

Keep up to date via the Normalcy 2013 page on the DRF blog: https://disabilityresearchforum.wordpress.com/events/normalcy-2013/, join the debate on twitter #normalcy2013 and, remember, to book a place at the conference, please visit normalcy2013.eventbrite.co.uk

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