CFP: Rethinking Disability on Screen Symposium, York

Date: Thursday 14th May 2015

Location: Humanities Research Centre, University of York


Twitter: @rdos2015

Deadline for abstracts: 16th January 2015

Keynote speakers: Stuart Murray, Professor of Contemporary Literatures and Film and Director of the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities and Justin Edgar, Filmmaker and Founder and Creative Director of 104 Films (

Cinema’s visual interest in disability registered almost from the moment of its invention. The historical tendencies of fiction film to show disabled subjects as objects of pity or comedy, as ‘monstrous’, as ‘resentful’ or as segregated from mainstream society have been critically documented from the 1980s onwards, but more recently, a number of international films featuring disability – Les IntouchablesAmourRust and BoneThe Sessions – have enjoyed both critical and commercial success.

Alongside TV coverage of the London-hosted 2012 Paralympics on Channel 4, UK terrestrial programming has addressed disability across a range of genres, from drama (Best of Men, BBC2) through comedy-sitcom (Derek, Channel 4) and social documentary (The UndateablesBodyshock, Channel 4), to mixed receptions. Such developments call for a re-examination of representations of disability on screen and their contribution to ongoing cultural, social, economic and political debates surrounding disability. This one-day interdisciplinary symposium at the University of York aims to unite postgraduates, early career researchers, established scholars and industry practitioners working across a range of fields and disciplines – including film studies, history, literature, cultural studies, gender studies, sociology and health sciences – to explore the ways in which cinema and television have reflected, and shaped, subjective and objective experiences of impairment and disability throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

We invite contributions in the form of 20-minute papers on a range of topics and genres, encompassing both fiction and non-fiction materials, as well as analyses of disability in production and reception contexts. The event will be underpinned by a number of key critical questions:

  • How visible is disability throughout the history of cinema and television? In what screen contexts is disability present? When has it been occluded, marginalised or suppressed?
  • What specific forms of disability has cinema embraced? Which has it neglected or rejected?
  • To what extent have cinema and television engaged with the emotional, physical and social implications of impairment and disability?
  • What forms of spectatorship do screen representations of disability construct/ presume?
  • How have representations of disability on screen changed over time? How much progress has been made, and what further directions should this take?

Our aims are to facilitate constructive, interdisciplinary conversations on existing scholarship, to discuss new avenues of enquiry and to promote interest and growth in this important but relatively under-studied area.

Presentation topics could include, but are not restricted to:

  • disability, sexuality and romance
  • disability and exceptionality
  • isolation and integration
  • dependence, independence, interdependence
  • disability and genre (comedy, satire, romance, melodrama, thriller, documentary  soap, reality, children’s film and TV, animation, science-fiction, period drama, medical film)
  • disability and film-making (able-bodied and disabled actors, directors and producers, disability activism in the entertainment industry)
  • commercials, advertising and promotional material
  • spectatorship and reception
  • discursive exchanges between the fields of disability studies and film studies, past, present and future.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be emailed to by Friday 16th January, together with a brief biographical note (100-150 words).

A number of travel bursaries, primarily for postgraduate students and ECRs from the White Rose Consortium and the Northern Network for Medical Humanities (, may be available. Details of how to apply will be announced in due course.


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