Call for Papers: Different Bodies: (Self-)Representation, Disability and the Media (University of Westminster)

About the conference

This one-day conference will take place on 23 June 2017 at 9am to 6pm at Regent Campus, 309 Regent Street, London.

This one-day conference seeks to explore representations of the body as strange, shameful, wrong, impaired, wounded, scarred, disabled, lacking, different or ‘other’ in contemporary media.

The advent of digital media has underlined the importance of visual culture and our curiosity in representations of the body to form opinions about ourselves and others. Media portrayals of bodies can affect our lives because media are one of the primary agents of socialization (Moore and Kosut, 2010). Bodies we see in newspapers, on television and in our social media feeds are often made to appear perfect in order to conform to racialized and heteronormative ideals of what it means to be beautiful and normal in contemporary capitalist societies. Presentations of the body that are white, young, slim and productive have been critiqued from different fields in academia such as feminism, queer theory, disability studies, critical theory and postcolonial studies.

The digital media landscape is posing new challenges to the study of body representation. The Internet and social media in particular have led to an increased representation and engagement with the body through practices such as selfies, webcamming, blogging, vlogging and so on. While digital media may contribute to an empowerment of excluded and silenced bodies, they may equally open up spaces of discrimination, threats, hatred, trolling and silencing online, as the #gamergate controversy or author Lizzie Velásquez’ self-presentation on social media have recently illustrated.

A critical approach to representations of bodies and disability is therefore essential as a means of change (Bolt, 2014). This conference aims to develop a new understanding of disability and the media in the 21st century by establishing a dialogue between different scholars on the theme of body representations. In particular, we seek to formulate new questions to comprehend how the tension between non-digital and digital media is creating spaces for new ways of framing disabled bodies. How are new narratives being developed to recount diversity? What is their function? What is the relationship between representation of the body in news outlets and self-representation on social media? What are the epistemological opportunities the media could embrace in order to promote equality, health literacy and ultimately, a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be human?

We encourage interdisciplinary paper presentations of 15 minutes that aim to explore how narratives and images of other bodies are constructed in the media and what their aesthetic, social, cultural, epistemological and political implications are.


Papers may draw on media and communication studies, as well as queer theory, disability studies, postcolonial studies, feminist theory, critical theory, psychoanalysis, psychosocial studies, literature, history, visual studies, anthropology, health communication, religious studies, medicine and philosophy.

Possible themes include but are not limited to:

  • Researching bodies and the media: frameworks and methodologies
  • Journalism and practices of othering the body
  • The mediated body as spectacle
  • Celebrity bodies and the spectacles of transformation
  • The abject body
  • Stigma and the body
  • De-colonizing and de-westernising the mediated body
  • Neoliberalism, policy and austerity politics
  • (Dis)Empowerments of the disabled body
  • The objectification of the disabled body in the media
  • Contemporary coverage of disability in print/online/television/radio
  • Reality television and the body
  • Auto-ethnographic accounts of the body in / through digital media
  • The medicalised body in the media
  • Representing wounds and scars
  • Affective labour of bodies
  • The body and trauma

This conference is part of the research project ‘Facial Disfigurement in the UK Media: From Print to Online’, led by Dr Diana Garrisi (University of Westminster) and Dr Jacob Johanssen (University of Westminster), which is financed through the University of Westminster Strategic Research Fund.

Invited speakers include Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy at the UK charity Changing Faces.

How to submit papers

Please send in abstracts of no longer than 500 words to both Jacob Johanssen (j.johanssen@westminster.ac.uk) and Diana Garrisi (d.garrisi2@westminster.ac.uk) by 28 April 2017.

Conference attendance will be free and registration will open in late spring.

We seek to provide an open and inclusive space for everyone.


May’s Disability Research Forum session

Our next Disability Research Forum session will take place on Tuesday, 23rd May 2017 at 1:30-3:30pm. Location to be announced.

Our first speaker will be Lindsay Miller

A dis-ordered refusal to be healthy: Messing up ideological purity & disciplines as violence

This talk, which is part of a larger PhD project that has just begun but that is ultimately untimely, aims to get us in deep trouble – through unsettling positionality – in order to dis-order shallow, clean, rigorous disciplinary modes of thinking connected to the bordering and ordering of security regimes (border imperialism) concerned with maintaining, largely through an imperialistic act of hiding, ideological purity connected to anormative, regulative production of truthful universal knowledge (Halberstam, 2015; Walia, 2013). I, like John Law in After Method (2004), “want to move from the moralist idea that if only you do your methods properly you will lead a healthy research life.” The imperative to heal, to be healthy, to be well, and the categorization and measurement thereof, will be exposed as restraining the possibility of other >>risky, unbecoming<< ways of living. What if we are unable, unwilling, or outright refuse to heal? What if healing, being read as healthy, requires a reintegration into the very structures that are responsible for the original violence? What, then, is made possible by such a refusal? And is this risk one worth taking?

Lindsay Miller is a first-year PhD student in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Currently studying the entanglements of border imperialism, psychiatric imperialism, and the huMan – especially as they emerge within and are legitimating forces of settler colonialism – their studies refuse allegiance to a disciplinary category and also refuse the perceived border between theory&practice. @praxivist

Our second speaker will be Michael Miller

Re: Forms of disruption, discipline, and disability

This paper considers forms of reform, broadly, and disciplinary reform more specifically related to efforts in changing conceptions of disability, and disabled people, in the classroom and wider ableist society. Recognizing that in-class disruptions are considered threats to a wider order and serve as justifications for discipline, how can we otherwise consider the classroom in relation to these events and students, recognizing the refusal and opportunity in the disruptions? Further, I want to think about how we might all think about these ‘events’ as discontinuous happenings within a structurally ongoing violence.

The classroom is an assertion of a naturalized order – with an Other just as necessary to a Normative Self as the institution of Education is to a Normative World. This paper, as an aspect of my PhD research, will think specifically about the distinguished, intertwined categorizations of students who cannot/will not fit compulsory expressions (Erevelles 2014). A question further than recognition and subversion that I am asking is: What if we changed our thinking of radical reforms beyond measures of temporary relief to facets of a structurally violent society, to considering how reforms actually serve the institutions they are enacted to erode (Ferguson 2012)?

Michael Miller is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield in the School of Education. Primarily focused in critical disability studies, Michael is thinking about and further developing their own (in)comprehensions of discontinuities of violence in/as education, asking what a crip refusal to reformative policies might become. @no_michael_ 


Dis/Cinema presents: Who Am I to Stop It? (2016)

This event takes place on Wednesday 26 April 2017 at 6 to 8pm at Hicks Building room K14, the University of Sheffield

Dis/Cinema is hosting a screening of Who Am I To Stop It, a documentary on isolation, art, and transformation after brain injury. The film centers on art not as rehabilitation but as a tool for personal growth, meanful work, and social change. Who Am I To Stop It takes an intimate look at life and art with brain injury through witnessing the lives of three artists (Dani, Brandon, and Kris) as they create art, interact in their communities in the Pacific Northwest of the US, and go about their daily lives.

This event is facilitated by the film’s director Cheryl Green MFA, MS who integrates her training in Performance As Public Practice and Speech-Language Pathology to explore how story can be used to break down stigma and barriers. After decades of repeated sports concussion and a series of mild traumatic brain injuries in 2010 and 2011, she began making films that combine personal narrative and activism to create dynamic, artistic tools to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes of disability while celebrating pride in disability experiences. Cheryl is host of the podcast Stories from the brainreels, a blogger, Closed Captioner and transcriptionist, and of course, a filmmaker who is proudly neurodivergent.

Who Am I To Stop It is Closed Captioned and Audio Description is available.

For accessibility enquiries, please contact us at discinemasheffield@gmail.com

Booking via Eventbrite can be completed here


May’s Disability Reading Group session

Our Next Disability Reading Group session will take place on Tuesday May 23rd at 12 -1pm in Room 10211, Arundel Building, 122 Charles Street, City Campus, Sheffield Hallam University, S1 1WB.

Michael and Lindsay Miller will be leading the session and they would like us to look at the following article: Kumari Campbell, F. A. (2008). Exploring internalised ableism using critical race theory. Disability and Society. 23 (2). 151-162.

For more information about the session or in case of any further questions, please contact srhannam@my.shu.ac.uk


Invitation to contribute to a new edited collection examining disability and research

Dr. Bronagh Byrne (Queen’s University Belfast) and Dr. Ciaran Burke (Ulster University) are currently accepting abstracts for chapters in a new edited collection examining disability and research.  The text itself will explore the empirical process from the perspective and experience of the disabled researcher.  As a companion to texts examining research processes with disabled respondents, this collection will provide a resource for disabled researchers that considers how we can navigate the rules and procedures of social research methods, whilst retaining the scientific rigour of the chosen method. We also wish to consider the consequences that can arise from disabled researchers’ attempts at “passing” and the benefits that can emerge from a reflexive approach to method.

To this end we envisage an edited collection that encompasses contributions from disabled researchers both within and beyond the disability studies field, reflecting the fact that disabled scholars may not necessarily work on disability issues. Examples of issues that may be considered include physical and communicational barriers inherent in some research processes, the disjuncture between need for adjustments to carry out ‘good quality research’ and availability of resources, implications for researcher identity, and disclosure of disability to research participants. There may of course be many other issues that warrant consideration.

The deadline for abstracts is Monday 8th May.  To discuss the focus of the text or potential abstracts please contact Dr. Ciaran Burke c.burke@ulster.ac.uk


Let’s Talk About Money event at Manchester Metropolitan University

This event will take place on Friday 7th April at 10:30-15:00

The location is Lecture Theatre 3, Geoffrey Manton building, Manchester Metropolitan University

Money & Equality – are people with learning disabilities getting the money they need to lead good lives?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People says that governments should make sure that disabled citizens have enough money to have healthcare, homes and jobs and be full members of their communities.

The United Kingdom government signed up to this convention to say they would do this.

Many disabled people and organisations from the UK told the United Nations that the government had policies that took away money and rights from disabled people. The United Nations investigated what they said and wrote a report.

This event is to talk about what the report said and what the experience is of people with learning disabilities.

We want to talk about whether there is enough money for people to live good lives in their communities and to take part as equal citizens.

We want to talk about whether our members with learning disabilities are having funding cut to for the help they need, benefits, housing and speaking up.

We will respond to the government on this report so we will use what our members say in this event to tell them what you think.



April’s Disability Research Forum session

Our next Disability Research Forum session will take place on the 5th of April at 2-4pm in Arundel 10311, Sheffield Hallam University City Campus, Howard Street, S1 1WB.

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.


April’s Disability Reading Group sesssion

Our next Disability Reading Group session will take place on the 5th of April at 1-2pm in Arundel 10311, Sheffield Hallam University City Campus, Howard Street, S1 1WB.

The text that we will discuss will be Hehir, Thomas. (2002) “Eliminating Ableism in Education”, in: Harvard Educational Review, vol. 72, no. 1: ProQuest Education Journals. 

Professor Nick Hodge has suggested the following questions to think and talk about during the session:

  • What is the project of ableism as defined by Campbell (2009)?
  • How does this differ from disablism?
  • How does ableism differ from Davis’s concept of Normalcy, or is it a subset of it?
  • In our own research, are we carrying out the project of ableism, and if so, how?
  • For a research project to be able to claim it is working within/carrying out the project of ableism, what are the essential characteristics that it must demonstrate?
  • In education, what are the acts of ableism that we should look to disrupt?



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