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  • "New Directions in Critical Disability Studies":Postgraduate Symposium, University of Sheffield
  • Neslie Carol Tan (bio)

On 9 July 2019, I was fortunate to join thirteen other postgraduate researchers from different universities in the postgraduate symposium entitled "New Directions in Critical Disability Studies," held at the University of Sheffield. All working on diverse projects within the field of Critical Disability Studies (CDS), we drew upon the theoretical frameworks and methodological motivations of our PhD research to critically engage with the exciting new trajectories in the field. We were also joined by other PhD researchers keen on furthering the conversations on emerging insights about CDS. This event was organized by Leah Burch (University of Leeds), Josephine Sirotkin (University of Leeds), and Martina Smith (University of Sheffield). The student-centredness of this event—where no senior expert supervised or facilitated the discussions—provided an interesting atmosphere that fostered dynamic exchanges of ideas.

The presentations were organized along the lines of five provocations for critical disability studies (Goodley et al.), which triggered discussions on (but not limited to) the purpose of theorizing disability, inclusivity in CDS, contemplating disability as a subject/object of research, the impact of recent theoretical developments on CDS, and the balancing act of attending to ability and disability. After each round of provocative presentations, we were given time to discuss among our groupmates our key takeaways, scribble ideas on papers provided, and interact with the presenters in a brief Q&A session.

The first set of provocations stimulated reflections on how our projects make sense of and intervene meaningfully in the social world. Antonios Ktenidis (University of Sheffield) started the day with a strong presentation about his narrative research with twenty young people with restricted growth, reflecting on their experiences of secondary education in the United Kingdom. He shared three "short stories" that explored the transgressive resignification of height, the biopolitics of schooling, and the dis/human child. A key point in the accounts [End Page 371] of his interviewees is the ambivalent stance of claiming "sameness" with peers while simultaneously intimating "difference" in their disclosures of ableist and disablist encounters. Using a dis/human approach, Ktendis exposed how such stories trouble normative hegemonic constructions of youth and schooling and at the same time illustrate pragmatism and political reclamation of the norm. Next, Jonathan Hulme (University of Leeds) troubled the notion of "human" by focusing on sleep, specifically the ableist concept of the "circadian" (24-hour) rhythm, in his presentation "Dreaming of Mars: Sleep and the (Ab)Human Circadian Rhythm." He exhibited images of sleep patterns of the average human, both early and late sleeping, then contrasted these to a puzzling image that did not quite fit the prescribed patterns to compellingly demonstrate how some people fall outside supposed qualities and behaviors of a "human." Drawing on his own sleep experiences and the philosophical concept of "speciesism," he encouraged us to rethink the question of who is outside humanity and underscored the importance of this very question because "the process of rendering someone ab- or in- human justifies cruelty." Rounding up the first provocation was Alexandra Murray (Open University Law School), who pushed for the utilization of biological citizenship and performativity to redefine the status of disabled people within the growing austerity of the welfare state. These tools are especially critical for people with invisible disabilities whose conditions and lived experiences are constantly under question and contestation, requiring them to perform culturally recognizable proofs of disability before being granted rightful assistance during disability benefit assessments. Biologial citizenship allows them to mobilize their political identity and community through shared knowledge and experiences, while performativity enables them to unpack notions of the authentic "disabled body."

The second provocation set centered on exploring autism, an identity whose increasing media representations and rhetorics have garnered much attention and controversial reception. First, David Hartley (University of Manchester) examined the canonical sci-fi film Blade Runner (1982) via the paradigm of neurodiversity to demonstrate how an autistic encounter with a "fanstastic human periphery" can be interpreted as a subversion of what David Bolt calls "normative positivisms" (1103). In so doing, Hartley confronts Darko Suvin's theory of "cognitive estrangement" in science fiction genre, challenging its underlying...


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