Call for Papers: Thematic Issue 18.2 (2017)

Dis-eased: Critical Approaches to Disability and Illness in American Studies

Guest Editors: Tanja Reiffenrath and Gesine Wegner

Although experiences of disability have been an integral part of American life, disability has traditionally been approached as a research object in medicine and the social and rehabilitative sciences and, as Brenda Brueggemann maintains, continues to be dominated by the medical discourse up until today despite an increase in alternative approaches. Ann Jurecic has argued that well until the second half of the century, little attention had indeed been devoted to individuals' first-person perspectives on their bodies and selves as well as on a disabling social and physical surrounding. Since the 1990s, however, the newly established field of Disability Studies has continuously engaged with the language surrounding disability, the history of disability and of people with disabilities, the philosophical place of differently-abled bodies and minds, and the ways in which disability is represented (and made metaphor) in literature and art. From Lennard Davis' Enforcing Normalcy (1995) and Rosemarie Garland Thomson's Extraordinary Bodies (1996) to Thomas Couser's studies on autobiography Recovering Bodies (1997) and Signifying Bodies (2009), Disability Studies as a discipline have quickly expanded and by now also address a number of intersectional discussions as Robert McRuer's Crip Theory (2006) productively demonstrates. Moreover, recent studies confront the ever more pressing issue of biopolitics, like Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell's The Biopolitics of Disability (2015).

In this special issue of COPAS, we want to survey how a critical approach to disability that considers both the social construction and the materiality of the body enriches the interdisciplinary field of American Studies and may bring new perspectives into the discipline. We welcome contributions from a wide range of methodological, medial, and topical perspectives within the field of American Studies that discuss the socio-historical construction of non-normative bodies and minds in American culture and help to shed light on 'disability' and 'impairment.' Papers are encouraged to discuss the differences as well as overlaps and entanglements of a social and physical disablement and the material reality of impairment. Topics may include (but are not limited to) the following fields of inquiry:

  • How is disability negotiated in American literature, history, and culture? Which cultural functions do non-normative bodies and minds fulfill in these 'texts' and how is their strategic and aesthetic representation influenced by genre conventions as well as different medial and historical contexts?
  • Why is it necessary and productive to introduce disability as a fourth category to the triangular intersection of gender, race, and class? What does the critical study of disability as a further identity category offer to the research done in American studies? What does a deconstructive reading of disability tell us about the structures that underlie American culture? What kind of ideological underpinning(s) can be disclosed?
  • How are disability narratives linked to national narratives of the United States? Which cultural and political functions are fulfilled by literary and cultural depictions of disability? Are they, for instance, used to reinforce or challenge the idea of the American Dream? How do they reinforce, challenge or redefine American core values such as liberty, freedom and independence? What is their relation to America's preoccupation with 'health' and its contested health care system?
  • How can research on the non-normative body done in other fields of study (e.g. Fat Studies, Intersex Studies, Transgender Studies, New Materialism, etc.) contribute to the field of Disability Studies? What are productive ways to bring these different research approaches together? To what extent do these various fields of study need to remain separated?
  • How can a critical approach to disability and impairment enrich and expand the research done in the Medical Humanities? How can differences and similarities in the research done on illness and disability be adequately addressed? In how far do literary and multi-modal narratives insist on dissociating disability from illness?

The submission deadline is 15 February 2017. Please consult our online 'Guidelines for Submissions,' which provide a template file for download. Contributions should be about 5,000 to 8,000 words (excluding abstract and list of works cited); for further instructions, see