Mediatizing disability: depiction and discourse in popular culture

In cooperation with the Amsterdam Research Institute of the Arts and Sciences

28mrt2019 17:00 - 18:30


From artworks to news reports, novels to Netflix, and social media to medical journals, old and new media shape our perceptions of disability. Their representations influence how we interact with and, importantly, advocate for people with disabilities. While many of the narratives presented in various media have traditionally fallen into harmful tropes of the pitiable or inspirational disabled character, contemporary works seek to challenge such representations.

In his talk, "Managing trauma through mimicry and mockery," John Miers will present excerpts from his current research at University of the Arts London’s Archives and Special Collections Centre at London College of Communication. In his project, Miers adopts the visual languages of other cartoonists, in particular Mark Beyer and Ivan Brunetti, in order to create semi-fictionalised autobiographical narratives dealing with aspects of the diagnosis and treatment of multiple sclerosis. Rather than distancing himself from his experience of illness, adopting the expressive habits of another person allows Miers to confront some of its most unpleasant aspects more directly.

Anja Hiddinga will discuss her video projects that take deaf people as the main protagonists in a talk entitled "Images of Deafhood." In her work, Hiddinga addresses how there is no such thing as the deaf person or the deaf world, and underlines what Deaf scholars have emphasized about the different ways in which one can be deaf. Resisting the essentialization of deafness to a bodily condition, these scholars have developed concepts doing justice to the variety of ‘deafnesses,’ while at the same time trying to grasp what is shared between deaf people. The notion of Deafhood (Paddy Ladd, 2003), for example, conceptualizes deafness as an inherently cultural notion and not a bodily defect. Projects on and with elderly deaf people, on deaf poets, on signers and non-signers, on histories and everyday life, show a spectrum of the needs and gains of disability and culture. Hiddinga will present some clips from these projects and discuss what they have brought her and evoked in different audiences, deaf and hearing, scientific and popular. 

Lastly, Tim Yaczo will present "Mediating brain (dis)abilities: Catherine Lacey’s The Answers and neuro fitness." Literary narratives of brain disorders showcase contemporary concerns about neurological fitness. In Catherine Lacey’s The Answers, the characters gain knowledge about neuroscience through various media and attempt to negotiate 21st century city life and love through neurochemical experimentation. Central to the novel is the extent to which altering neurochemistry can convert disability into ability. The novel does cultural work by questioning the limits that neuroscientific insights and interventions can demand of us and yield for us today. Central to this talk is how stories of brain disability shape and address us: the ways we enter discussion, how we inhabit them, and therefore how we proceed to make use of them.

About the speakers

John Miers is a cartoonist and researcher in Illustration and Critical and Historical Studies at Kingston School of Art, and is a visiting lecturer at University of the Arts London and the Royal College of Art. After completing his PhD, Visual Metaphor and Drawn Narratives, at Central Saint Martins in 2018, he began a postdoctoral residency at London College of Communication (UAL). His current work as Researcher in the Archives in University of the Arts London’s Archives and Special Collections Centre at London College of Communication focuses on the creation of semi-fictionalised autobiographical narratives dealing with aspects of the diagnosis and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Anja Hiddinga is a filmmaker, senior researcher and lecturer at the Anthropology department of the University of Amsterdam. She has a background in science studies and an interest in visual anthropology. Her recent work is focused particularly on questions of belonging and wellbeing of elderly deaf people and deaf youth. Her series of five shorts on poetry in sign language (with Leendert Pot) and a documentary on elderly deaf people (with Jascha Blume) have been internationally successful. Currently she is working on a new multimedia project around an experimental film on the controversy over the status of sign language. 

Tim Yaczo teaches Literary and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam and coordinates the MA program in Comparative Literature, as well teaching rhetoric at the PPLE college. His current work is focused on tracking the concept of neuronarrative by analyzing the reciprocal and catalytic relationships between neuroscience and literary media across various genres, from novels to scientific reports.


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