Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Introduction: Popular Genres and Disability Representation

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Introduction: Popular Genres and Disability Representation

Article excerpt

"Popular narrative is not trivial," as Nickianne Moody writes, "it forms part of discursive practices that support inequality, influence medical and social decisions and determine interaction between non-able-bodied and non-disabled experience and identity" ("Methodological Agendas," 39). The narratives circulating in popular culture play a significant role in shaping wider understandings of disability and impairment. Within the broader category of popular narrative this special issue of JLCDS focuses on popular genre forms, with authors considering genres from melodrama to the gothic to contemporary crime fiction. The analysis of disability representation in these popular genre texts produces insights that can illuminate all kinds of texts, whether canonical or contemporary, privileged or disparaged. In one way or another, all the articles in this special issue challenge, problematize, or expand upon existing scholarly work on disability and representation, advancing our understanding not only of the specific texts or genre forms that they analyse, but also of disability representation itself.

Building upon Disability and Popular Fiction: Reading Representations, a one-day conference held at Liverpool John Moores University in 2009, and a panel on disability in romance fiction at the Present Difference: The Cultural Production of Disability conference at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2010, this special issue showcases a range of work on disability in popular genre texts. Such a project is undoubtedly needed: in critical work on contemporary popular genres such as science fiction, romance, and crime fiction, there is little engagement with disability. In the well-developed body of scholarly work on crime, detective, and mystery fiction, for example, there are books on race and ethnicity in the genre, but none on disability. Even works whose titles would suggest the necessity of a critical engagement with disability-such as Gill Plain's Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body or Christiana Gregoriou's Deviance in Contemporary Crime Fiction-show little evidence of a disability-informed perspective. In the similarly expansive field of science fiction scholarship, a groundbreaking 2008 collection, Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction, places queer-theoretical approaches to the genre centre stage, and there has been a plethora of recent works on race, ethnicity, and postcoloniality in science fiction. However, despite Michael Bérubé's speculation that the genre is "as obsessed with disability as it is with space travel and alien contact" (568), there has been little engagement with disability in the critical work.1 The same can be said for the rapidly expanding field of romance studies, though a recent article on disability in vampire romance by Kathleen Miller (one of the contributors to this special issue), as well as numerous discussions of this topic on fan sites are encouraging signs.

The general lack of critical engagement with disability in fields that it could so obviously enrich is a familiar story. Indeed, the sort of summary given in the previous paragraph is so well rehearsed in cultural disability studies as to be conventional. For popular genre forms, however, there is a further lack of critical engagement within cultural disability studies. What David Bolt terms "critical avoidance" works on many levels ("Social Encounters"). That is not to say that scholars in cultural disability studies have not engaged with popular genre texts; such an assertion is patently untrue. As early as 1987, no less a figure than Irving Zola analysed the representation of disability in "the crime-mystery genre," suggesting that both the popularity and the "structure and content of crime-mystery writing" justify such scrutiny (486). Also worth highlighting are more recent works by Johnson Cheu and Jeffrey Weinstock (both on science fiction), Jane Stemp (young adult science fiction and fantasy), and Andrew Jakubowicz and Helen Meekosha (detective fiction), as well as discussions of genre by Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell (in Cultural Locations of Disability), and Stuart Murray (in Representing Autism). …

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