BAAL/Cambridge University Press seminar on the pathologisation of non-standard language

This event will be held at 24 and 25 April at Charles Street Building at Sheffield Hallam University.

It  aims to provide a forum for discussion, and a springboard for collaborative working, between sociolinguists, speech and language therapists (SLTs) and educationalists. The outcomes of its discussions on the discourses of pathology and their deficit model will eventually be disseminated during a conference colloquium, with plans for publication in a special issue of the journal Language and Discrimination. 

In previous work and in a previous BAAL/CUP funded seminar (2011), we have discussed a resurgence of language deficit perspectives in political, educational and media discourse (Grainger and Jones 2013). In addition, the profession of speech and language pathology has become involved in the debates, often drawn in by policy makers to lend authority to claims of linguistic deficit in children from poorer families and to support remedial communication programmes for schools and families in socially disadvantaged areas. The assumption is that the alleged lack of communicative skill in poorer children is attributable to inadequate parenting, which then results in linguistic pathology. While there are echoes here of the ‘compensatory’ educational initiatives inspired by Basil Bernstein’s work in the 1970s (Jones, 2013), the 21st century repackaging of the issue involves extending the professional remit of SLT into the education of typically developing children and their parents (e.g. Locke et al. 2002).

While speech and language pathology (SLT) is traditionally based on a medical model of language development, a sociolinguistic perspective is missing from all such recent proposals for communicational intervention (e.g. Bercow et al. 2008; All Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, 2013). Collaboration between sociolinguists, educational linguists and the profession of SLT would therefore seem particularly timely. Such collaboration will promote knowledge and awareness of the social context of language use and will provide a more balanced evidence base on which to draw for future policy-making. It is therefore the goal of the proposed workshop to bring together educationalists, SLTs and sociolinguists who are interested in collaborative research that questions the pathologisation of poor children’s communication skills, that foregrounds the role of social context in language use, and that emphasises the economic inequalities underlying differential educational achievement. The workshop will focus on the production of an action plan for future collaboration between specialists in the three discipline areas.

For more information, please contact Dr Karen Grainger (k.p.grainger@shu.ac.uk) or Dr Peter E. Jones (p.e.jones@shu.ac.uk).



Kate Sang’s survey request

Kate Sang is conducting research to understand the experiences of disabled academics to provide some guidance for universities, funders and unions to better support staff. The research is funded by the EPSRC and Heriot Watt University.
The survey and further details can be found here:
All findings will be anonymised to protect the identities of respondents and institutions. Data will be used to develop a freely available report, and in resulting research outputs. The research has received ethical approval from Heriot Watt University. All data will be securely stored and anonymised prior to analysis.
If the survey format is not accessible for you, please email k.sang@hw.ac.uk

September’s Disability Research Forum session

The first Disability Research Forum session after the summer break will take place on 28 September 2017. Time and location to be announced.

Our first speaker will be Dr Erin Pritchard from Liverpool Hope University 

“He’s Adorable”: Representations of Dwarfs in Family Guy

This paper examines how dwarfs* are represented in the American animated sitcom Family Guy. Whilst the show has been criticised for its controversial humour, this paper argues that the show actually exposes negative social attitudes that dwarfs encounter from other members of the public, whilst refraining from encouraging stereotypes of dwarfs. This paper shows how Family Guy presents dwarfs as ordinary members of society, whilst still being humorous. In this paper it is suggested that Family Guy has the potential to challenge social attitudes towards dwarfs, and the way they are perceived in society, through directing the humour towards those who mock them as opposed to the dwarfs themselves.

Keywords: dwarfs, humour, Family Guy, social attitudes.

* Terms used to refer to people with dwarfism differ from person to person. The term dwarf was chosen as it describes a person who is of short stature (<125cm) and has a medical condition.

Further speakers to be announced.


April’s Disability Research Forum

April’s Disability Research Forum session will take place on the 5th of April at 2-4pm in Arundel 10311.

The first speaker will be Dr Jill Smith who is a lecturer in Autism Studies at Sheffield Hallam University.

This time last year (April 2016), I presented a paper at the Equality, Diversity and Social Justice research group making a case for theory in ‘autism research’. A year on, in coming to the DRF, I return to theory with fresh enthusiasm, like visiting an old friend, picking up where we left off all that time ago. In this paper I will make a case for the theoretical work I came to find so valuable in my PhD research, a case for theorising dis/orientation in research about everyday life, autism, and childhood. I will explore that giddy feeling I get in trying to grapple with the theorising of everyday life and the messiness and somersaulting that requires. In that spirit, I’m going to return to the work I’ve been doing around dis/orientation, a theoretical sentiment that I’ve been thinking with and writing with since those heady days of thesis writing. My use of dis/orientation brings together a number of theoretical ‘titbits’ from dis/humanism (Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2014) and Sara Ahmed’s (2006) ‘orientation’ in queer phenomenology. I throw in a nod to Deleuze & Guattari for good measure to encourage that we work towards staying with/in dis/orientating in our relation to autism, childhood and dis/ability beyond reductive dichotomies of lives labelled autistic being either simply disordered or simply different.

The second speaker will be Hannah Ebben who is a PhD student at the Autism Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.

My presentation will tie my critical thinking on disability with my background in the field of Cultural Studies. The social construction of disability involves a great amount of speculation, from clinical practices of examination to disability living allowance eligibility and everyday phrases such as ‘Why are you in a wheelchair?’. The disabled subject in its embodied, performative, and bureaucratic reality is greatly shaped through a ‘political economy of doubt’, in which people are allowed to speculate about human populations and conditions. Outside of clinical and political praxis, popular culture offers a safe haven to speculate. On a television or film screen, the fictional world of the film or series that you are watching does not hear your thoughts about plot development or the characters. This brings a feeling of pleasure, often named scopophilia in reference to Freud within feminist film criticism, which is of interest to the study of everyday practices of speculation and doubt in relation to disability.

In film and television, questions to speculate about often form the backbone of a plot; for example, when the groundbreaking series Twin Peaks aired in 1990, it started a so-called ‘water cooler effect’ in which people spent their chat-up with colleagues at work discussing who could have killed Laura Palmer. Originally, however, this murder investigation was meant to be a mere device to keep the plot about eccentric townsfolk going, which is a phenomenon called a MacGuffin in film theory. Even though this ‘MacGuffin’ left much room for speculation up until the reveal, the disabled characters that appeared throughout the series do not trigger much of this. Some of them have visible impairments with an origin that gets explained in-universe, whilst the appearance of others contribute to the surreal, mythical, and paranormal atmosphere of the series.

In my talk, I would like to compare this to one of my case studies in my PhD study on autism as a discourse in film. The 2011 movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, child protagonist Oskar Schell is searching for the lock of a key belonging to a person called Black, that he found in the cupboard of his father who died during the 9/11 attacks. The main plot is driven by his desire to find the key destination and thus to come closer to his deceased father. Ultimately, the film actually focuses on the way in which Oskar copes with trauma, interacts with his remaining family members, and gains more life experience overall. The element of speculation for the viewer lies in his condition: could he have Asperger’s Syndrome? I will discuss these different forms of looking with doubt and anticipation (and the moments during which these might fail to occur), as well as the wider implications that these could have on perceptions and cultural constellations of disability in society as a whole.


Funded PhD opportunity at MMU in Digital Inclusion (UK)

There is a funded PhD opportunity at Manchester Metropolitan University studying “Digital Inclusion: Transforming the lives of people with learning disabilities”

Summary: The project will explore the ways in which people with learning disabilities are using the internet. People with learning disabilities are commonly digitally excluded but as the numbers of internet users increases, it is important to learn more about their experiences. This research will explore how the internet is being used, the nature of support and identify strategies for successful internet use.

Full details here: http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/research/research-study/scholarships/detail/hpsc-sc-2017-1-digital-inclusion.php

Closing date: 13th April 2017