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  • Disability and the Emotions, Seminar Series, Phase One, Centre for Culture and Disability Studies
  • Holly Lightburn (bio)

Beginning in October 2016, the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies (CCDS) hosted its third seminar series, Disability and the Emotions. While the series spans two years, my comment focuses on the first phase of the series, between October 2016 and May 2017. Chaired by David Bolt, this phase of the series featured six seminars, each focusing on a different aspect of the theme, introduced and presented by academics from Liverpool Hope University (the home of the CCDS) and international scholars. Reflecting the inherently interdisciplinary nature of disability studies, the seminars drew on a range of disciplines (including historical studies and literary studies) as well as seminars that focused more on significant cultural theories associated with disability studies such as crip theory and affect theory.

The first seminar in the series, Ria Cheyne's (Liverpool Hope University) "Affect and the Disability Encounter," explored how affect theory can be used productively alongside disability studies, examining the links among disability, emotions, and activism. Cheyne critically examined the way that emotions are discussed within disability studies, and the way that pre-existing scholarship in the field is potentially limited by its attitudes toward the effect that emotions have on the investigation of, and experience of, disability. She defined the disability encounter as "more than just a meeting between a disabled and a non-disabled individual. It encompasses moments when disability is claimed, embodied, disavowed, or rendered perceptible or imperceptible" (Cheyne). This grounded her seminar within the wider cultural context of disability experience. She suggested that the encounters happen on a daily basis and in and of themselves create an affect. This intertwining of disability and emotion is both complex and unpredictable, with disabled people often being rendered responsible for the emotional labour that occurs during these encounters. Cheyne went on to argue that emotion is valuable when used to affect, often serving as a catalyst for social change. In contrast to this, she highlighted [End Page 109] the ways that traditional academic writing is often reluctant to engage with emotions and suggested that disability studies is an affective field. Finally, she discussed the anger that she feels while pursuing disability studies and how that is both a boon and a drain to her. The passionate seminar lay the foundation for the series more generally, examining the interactions between emotion and disability and presenting them as inherently entwined.

Joanne Heeney's (University of York) "Pride and Prejudice: Emotions in the Lives of Fathers of Autistic Children" continued to examine the interplay between disability and emotion. Her sensitive approach rendered the complexities of parenting disabled children in a powerful way. Her research disrupted traditional, gendered notions of caregiving, and rejected the homogenization of fatherhood that she argued can sometimes occur. She did not frame parenting a disabled child in a negative light but drew attention to the complexities that can be faced. She discussed how societal perceptions of masculinity and risk combine to create an environment that stigmatizes fathers who are involved in the personal care of their children by "only ever [viewing] […] the male bodily presence as something harmful and toxic" (Heeney). However, the seminar illustrated the intimacy and joy experienced between fathers and their children. While parenting any child is a unique experience, Heeney used participant experience and emotion to add weight to her work, again emphasizing the ways that disability studies is enriched through the appreciation of emotion.

"'An Unstable and Fantastical Space of Absence': The Entanglement of Memory and Emotion" was Margaret Price's (Ohio State University) contribution to the seminar series. Price introduced her seminar by exploring her own embodiment, the experience of living with an unreliable memory. Her research was interview based and examined the experiences of thirty-seven disabled colleagues. She used these interviews to focus on, and flesh out, her concept of crip space-time, which "describes the way that we as disabled people move through and manifest in space and time" (Price). The seminar focused on the way that emotional labour was undertaken among her interviewees. Their experiences were posited as being incongruous with those of the people around...


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