Friday, March 28, 2008

Monsters and the Monstrous: Call for Papers 2008

Found via Cryptomundo:

6th Global Conference - Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

Monday 22nd September - Thursday 25th September 2008
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

This inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary conference seeks to investigate and explore the enduring influence and imagery of monsters and the monstrous on human culture throughout history. In particular, the project will have a dual focus with the intention of examining specific ‘monsters’ as well as assessing the role, function and consequences of persons, actions or events identified as ‘monstrous’. The history and contemporary cultural influences of monsters and monstrous metaphors will also be examined.

Perspectives are sought from those engaged in the fields of literature, media studies, cultural studies, history, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, health and theology. Ideas are welcomed from those involved in academic study, fictional explorations, and applied areas (e.g. youth work, criminology and medicine).

Papers, reports, work-in-progress and workshops are invited on issues related to any of the following themes:

- The “monster” through history
- Civilization, monsters and the monstrous
- Children, childhood, stories and monsters; monsters and parents
- Comedy: funny monsters and/or making fun of monsters (e.g. Monsters Inc, the Addams Family)
- Making monsters; monstrous births
- Mutants and mutations
- Technologies of the monstrous
- Horror, fear and scare
- Do monsters kill because they are monstrous or are they monstrous because they kill?
- How critical to the definition of “monster” is death or the threat of death?
- Human ‘monsters’ and ‘monstrous’ acts? e.g, perverts, paedophiles and serial killers
- The monstrous and gender
- Revolution and monsters; the monstrous and politics; enemies (political/social/military) and monsters
- Iconography of the monstrous
- The popularity of the modern monsters; the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Vampires
- The monster in literature
- The monstrous in popular culture: film, television, theatre, radio, print, internet. The monstrous and journalism
- Religious depictions of the monstrous; the monstrous and the supernatural
- Metaphors and the monstrous
- The monstrous and war, war reportage/propaganda
- Monsters, the monstrous and the internet; monstrous virtualities
- Monsters, gaming and on-line communities

Papers will be accepted which deal solely with specific monsters. We also welcome proposals for pre-formed panels which specifically explore the themes of hybridity or themes of monstrous parents and families. In addition, papers which examine the theme of hope in relations to monsters (for joint sessions with the Hope project running at the same time) are wlecome.

Papers will be considered on any related theme. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 9th May 2008. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 8th August 2008.

300 word abstracts should be submitted to both Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats, following this order: author(s), affiliation, email address, title of abstract, body of abstract.

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Sorcha Ni Fhlainn
Project Co-Leader
School of English, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
mailto: iheartvampires@gmail.com

Rob Fisher
Network Founder & Leader Inter-Disciplinary.Net
Freeland, Oxfordshire
United Kingdom
mailto: m6@inter-disciplinary.net

Stephen Morris
Project Co-Leader
Independent Scholar
New York, USA
mailto: smmorris58@yahoo.com

The conference is part of the ‘At the Interface’ series of programmes organised by ID.Net. The aim of the conference is to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting. All papers accepted for and presented at this conference are eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers will be developed for publication in a themed hard copy volume.

[end quote]

I think this whole conference sounds awesome, and with the potential to bring all kinds of things together. I have bolded the topics in the list that i think sound particularly exciting...

It would be utterly awesome if some Disability Studies people submitted papers for this. I know i'm not up to it at the moment (and not (yet) being within the hallowed halls of academia, probably wouldn't be eligible), but there have to be some people who would be well into this out there...

A few topics that i can think of offhand that could potentially fit into this from a disability studies perspective: changelings, freak shows in fiction and reality, representations of disabled people as monsters or villains in horror films (see this post at Sweet Perdition, discovered through the latest Disability Blog Carnival... another one i need to add to my blogroll), the Neanderthal hybrid theory of neurodiversity, the use of disabled actors to play monsters or non-human characters (eg in Doctor Who)... shit, there's fucking loads of stuff...

(I think i'm going to have to spam about a couple of dozen blogs with this...)

oh, and a couple of classic blog posts which i think are relevant to this:

Little Light: the seam of skin and scales
Boots (of Makezine): Monster Trans
Ballastexistenz: I'm the monster you met on the Internet

edit: archives of the previous 5 conferences in this project can be found here...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Internet Accessibility Project

This looks interesting (from the Disabled People's International e-newsletter), particularly as it's focusing on cognitive rather than physical or visual impairments:

Invitation to Participate in Internet and Accessibility Project

The impact of Internet on society has been growing for more than two decades. Today, the Internet has become a dominant platform for nearly real time information exchange and electronic communication, both at high-profile level and in private (virtual) contexts. While these features contribute to an increasingly comfortable use of the Internet as a democratic communication platform, they require advanced usage skills and capabilities, not obviously mastered by all people in society.

The present study focuses on the accessibility of the Internet for people with cognitive disabilities. Unfortunately, many of today's most 'advanced' websites and Internet-based communication tools fail to meet the minimal requirements to be considered accessible for people with intellectual disabilities. For instance, interfaces are overly complex or abstract; the language is not adapted to persons with cognitive limitations; and the size of visual add-ins may not be appropriate.

If you want more information on the project "Internet Inclusive" or if you might be interested in collaborating in this study, do not hesitate to contact: Mrs. Jo Daems, Project Co-ordinator "Internet Inclusive" or Jan Dekelver, ICT Research Coordinator
Email: jo.daems@khk.be
Email: jan.dekelver@khk.be

(the issue of language being "adapted to persons with cognitive limitations" is one that i've been thinking about, if not actually coming to any conclusions on, lately... this thread on the BBC Ouch message board got me thinking about it... any thoughts on the issue would be welcome... anyway, i thought a few people in the autism blogosphere (if they even read this blog) might well be interested in this...)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wanted: representations of disability in 20th century British literature

A friend of mine and fellow disabled activist told me today that she was thinking of doing a PhD on representations of disability in 20th century British literature (she is currently doing an MA in 20th century British history). As a starting point she is interested in representations of people who came back disabled from World War I and II, but also in anything since then, and particularly in how literary representations of disability changed in response to changing social and political conceptualisations of disability.

She's particularly interested in physical impairments rather than mental, and not necessarily just in fiction but also in stuff like autobiographies, poetry, etc. Also while it's primarily British and 20th century stuff she's interested in, stuff that's older or not British might still be of interest (and i'd also be interested in it for myself!)

I thought that, out of the probably thousands of books i've read, i would be able to think of at least a few representations of disability, but, oddly, i'm really struggling to find any that are British - quite a few American (particularly African-American) novels i've read have physically impaired minor characters (minor characters just as much of interest as main characters), but, going through my bookshelf of novels, the only British one i can come up with is Samad Miah Iqbal from Zadie Smith's White Teeth, who has a paralysed arm from fighting in WWII (and that was published in 2000, tho as it was probably written, and certainly set, in the 20th century, i guess it probably counts)... all the rest are US (although there probably are some i'm not remembering in some of the many Indian and Latin American magical realist novels i read in the phase i went through of that... still not British, tho)...

As for autobiographies, i know that UK disabled visual artist Alison Lapper has written one, tho i haven't read it, and i've already mentioned to her Ruben Gallego's White On Black, which, tho it's Russian, i think would fit in as a disabled author's 20th century memoir as literature...

Can anyone think of any more? I know there are a few literature lovers on my blogroll...

edit: I posted a thread here, and got a few replies, none of which i'd previously heard of... tho i now think i might have seen the name "Precious Bane" mentioned somewhere, or at least it has a familiar ring to it...

also, anyone got any idea why mental impairments seem to be a much more popular topic for being a main theme of novels than physical ones?

Friday, March 7, 2008

"Disability is Natural"... or is it?

(now edited to include a link to a relevant Jim Sinclair article, which i had in mind but somehow forgot to link when posting this...)

In a comment on another disability blog someone recently mentioned the website "Disability is Natural", so "naturally" i went to have a look at it...

I had actually seen someone wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Disability is Natural" and the red and green apple logo at 2 different disability events (i believe it was the Liberty Festival in London, either in 2005 or 2006, and the protests against the Welfare Reform Bill at the Labour party conference in Manchester in 2006), but hadn't realised it was a website. At the latter, i think i tried to argue with him about the slogan, but didn't get very far with it...

I see the point that the slogan is trying to make - that disabled people are a natural part of human diversity, and deserve to be accepted and accommodated rather than "cured" or eliminated, and of course I wholeheartedly support that - that's the basic foundation of the social model of disability. But the use of the slogan "Disability is Natural" betrays a clear lack of understanding of what the social model is truly about.

Under the social model, a clear distinction is made between impairment and disability, which the medical system and the individualised models it promotes conflate into one thing. Impairment is a physical or mental difference which prevents a person from being able to carry out daily activities considered "normal" for humans to be able to do - eg. standing/walking, seeing, hearing, feeding oneself, reading and writing, understanding verbal and non-verbal forms of communication as used by most people, etc. Disability is the lack of equality in society caused, not by impairments themselves, but by the failure or refusal of society to accommodate people with impairments - eg. by not making buildings accessible to wheelchair users, not providing information in formats accessible to people with visual or hearing impairments or learning disabilities like dyslexia, not allowing people who need help with personal care to have choice and control over what support they recieve, assuming that everyone "should" be able to understand all forms of communication in the same way, etc.

(It's worth noting that, while impairment is therefore something with a "concrete", outside-of-society existence, and disability something that exists because of and depending on social factors, what is and isn't an impairment is still contested, especially in the neurological area, where the distinctions between, for example, preferring one method of communication over another, and actually being unable to use one form of communication, get kind of blurred - and what constitutes an impairment still depends to some extent on what is considered "normal" for people to be able to do - eg. dyslexia wouldn't have been an impairment for many people in societies without widespread literacy. But this is a tangent...)

Physical and mental diversity is natural. Impairment is natural. But the social model states quite emphatically that disability isn't natural - it's socially constructed, and can be socially deconstructed. (It's also worth noting here that being socially constructed, despite what a lot of people seem to think, doesn't necessarily mean that something "isn't real". It's very real, but it's society and not nature that makes it real.)

Several quotes from the disability history page of the website make it clear that, when the author says "disability", ze actually means "impairment":

From the beginning, mythical perceptions and stereotypical attitudes have portrayed individuals with disabilities as different, aberrant, deficient, incompetent, and more. But like gender and ethnicity, a disability is simply one of many natural characteristics of being human... There have always been people with disabilities and differences in the world, and there always will be.


Some people are born with conditions we label as disabilities; others may acquire a disability through an accident or illness; and, if we live long enough, many of us will acquire a disability through the aging process. Disability does not discriminate!


But the problem never has been the disability; the problem is (and has always been) society's beliefs about disability. People with disabilities are not broken, and they don't need to be fixed!

Old attitudes and perceptions—not the disability itself—constitute the greatest obstacle facing people with disabilities. This attitudinal barrier may not always be visible to the naked eye, but it rears its ugly head across all environments and results in children and adults with disabilities being socially isolated, physically segregated, and excluded from the mainstream of American society.

Of course, in a social model understanding of the term "disability", "attitudes and perceptions" are "the disability itself"...

(edit: the author is Kathie Snow, who wants quotes to be attributed, and who is the non-disabled parent of a disabled son. I was kind of curious as to whether the author was a disabled person...)

Another article on the site is "People First Language" (note that to read the whole article you have to click another link, which leads to a PDF, so if you don't have Acrobat or equivalent, or if PDFs crash your computer... don't). There's a lot of stuff in the article that i agree with, and its intent is clearly, unambiguously good - but, IMO, the usages it advocates are highly problematic - arguably even more problematic than many of the "offensive" usages they are supposed to replace.

(This and variants of it are also advocated by other disability campaigns and organisations, such as People First, the UK organisation of people with learning disabilities... of which I also have criticisms, some of which are language-related, but i've gone off on enough tangents already...)

Several of the recommended changes in language usage are about particular words, which i don't really want to get into a discussion of in this post, as for every word which has been used to describe a group of people, you can guarantee that there are some people within that group who support "reclaiming" it as a positive identifier, and others within that group who believe that it is inherently offensive, cannot be reclaimed and needs to be removed from the language - but the major change pushed for by advocates of "people first language" is a grammatical one, the replacement of phrases which use the impairment/disability as an adjective ("disabled person") with "person-first" phrases such as "person with a disability", and of the use of "to be" in phrases such as "she is disabled" with "to have" in phrases like "she has a disability".

This, again, while commonly advocated by people who think they are being anti-discrimination and pro-equality, is actually not a social model approach to disability. "Person with a disability" is not simply a more "courteous" or "polite" way of saying the same thing as "disabled person" (and, in any case, it wouldn't matter much to me if it was, as the concept of "politeness" really is pretty much meaningless to me) - it actually has a different meaning.

"A disability", stated as a noun, is a "thing" which a person "has" - simultaneously both belonging to the individual, and not directly relevant to who the person actually is. As has already been said, while impairment belongs to the individual, disability "belongs" to society - but, assuming that "disability" is simply being used to mean "impairment" again, impairment is an intrinsic part of the identity of an individual - so the phrase is incoherent. On the other hand, "disabled", when used to describe a person, is not really an adjective, but an adjectival use of the past tense of a verb ("to disable")- a disabled person is someone who has been disabled by society.

(With regard to individual impairments, i usually would say "person X has CP/muscular dystrophy/Down's/Asperger's/whatever"... but that's mainly because those terms don't really have adjectival forms, and where the adjectival form is commoner - eg "blind", "autistic", "dyslexic" etc - i would use it, because an alternative form such as "person Y has autism" just seems to be... not "natural" English syntax. I wouldn't criticise someone for using it, since their meaning would be clear, but i wouldn't consider the difference to have political meaning...)

(I'm aware that, in the US, it seems that the preferred usage in the disability rights movement, despite its recognition of the social model, is "people with disabilities"... i'm not quite sure why, but i'm guessing it might be by analogy with other phrases more commonly used in the US than in the UK, such as "people of colo(u)r". I'd be interested in any US-based bloggers' thoughts on this...)

EDIT: to include a link to Jim Sinclair's article Why I dislike "person first" language, which puts the social model argument against person-first language better and more clearly than i could...

Some would probably say that this is all just nitpicking, and that it doesn't really matter what form of language is used, as long as meaning is clear... but I'm one of those people who think that language matters, because the terms in which people refer to things shape their understanding of those things, and i think that terms need to have clear definitions, because otherwise people who are on the same side end up saying apparently opposite things, and people whose intent is good end up being dismissed or co-opted because of the unclearness or linguistic incoherence of their arguments.

Has anyone read the "Disability is Natural" book, or seen the video? What was your opinion of it?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stuff I have found recently

Haven't been feeling up to writing again recently. I have a huge list of posts i'm meaning to write (or maybe topics i'm meaning to write posts on), quite a few of which are ones i've said i would write to other people, which i really do intend to write soon (for a given value of "soon"), but it's going to have to be when i've got a more coherent head on.

I recently created a Livejournal account, for the intended purpose of being able to comment on Livejournal blogs (my actual blog posts are going to stay here), but it's also led me to browse LJ using some of its fairly nice networking functionality. I'm really not a "social networking site" kind of person, and not really inclined to do things like friends-locked posts, but i kind of like the thing LJ shares with Wikipedia of links leading all over the place to random stuff.

One awesome post i found which definitely deserves linking is Pro-Choice, But by thauts, which basically sums up my views and feelings on abortion and being (truly) "pro-choice" pretty exactly.

Also this report from the queer/trans demo in Manchester, and a link to the responses to it on Indymedia, the transphobic so-called-radical so-called feminist ones of which are just fucking depressing, altho i'm gratified to see that there are several people ably countering them...

edit: just seen this bullshit counter-attack from the radfems, claiming that the trans/queer bloc was a "protest against women only spaces"... ffs, i don't know if i can even be bothered to step into this...

further edit: Caz (in the comments) speaks TRUTH:

This paranoid ranting about "the queer lobby" is straight out of the conspiratorial pages of the hetero-supremacist Daily Mail, who use a similar strategy: play minority groups against each other - feminists vs Muslims, African-Caribbean Christians vs LGBT people, working class householders against travellers and so on. They can't stand any of these groups of course, but it suits their purposes to stir. Beware of the deliberate wrecking policies persued by the straight male left also: to some factions, feminism and queer politics have been a source of hostility for nigh-on 40 years now. Trying to pit female and gay activists against each other is an old CP style tactic which can only weaken the feminist and queer movements.

On a more theoretical tip, i came across this really awesome quote, which deconstructs corporate heirarchies while showing up the fundamental contradictions of both statist "socialism" and pro-capitalist "libertarianism" very nicely, here:

"These large corporations have the internal characteristics of a planned economy. Information flow is systematically distorted up the chain of command, by each rung in the hierarchy telling the next one up what it wants to hear. And each rung of management, based on nonsensical data (not to mention absolutely no direct knowledge of the production process) sends irrational and ass-brained decisions back down the chain of command. The only thing that keeps large, hierarchical organizations going is the fact that the productive laborers on the bottom actually know something about their own jobs, and have enough sense to ignore policy and lie about it so that production can stagger along despite the interference of the bosses.

When a senior manager decides to adopt a "reform" or to "improve" the process in some way, he typically bases his decision on the glowing recommendations of senior managers in other organizations who have adopted similar policies. Of course, those senior managers have no real knowledge themselves of the actual results of the policy, because their own information is based on filtered data from below. Not only does the senior management of an organization live in an imaginary world as a result of the distorted information from below; its imaginary world is further cut off from reality by the professional culture it shares with senior management everywhere else. “…in a rigid hierarchy, nobody questions orders that seem to come from above, and those at the very top are so isolated from the actual work situation that they never see what is going on below.”12

The root of the problem, in all such cases, is that individual human beings can only make optimally efficient decisions when they internalize all the costs and benefits of their own decisions. In a large hierarchy, the consequences of the irrational and misinformed decisions of the parasites at the top are borne by the people at the bottom who are actually doing the work. And the people doing the work, who both know what's going on and suffer the ill effects of decisions by those who don't know what's going on, have no direct control over the decision-making."

-Kevin Carson, Studies In Mutualist Political Economy (In print: page 322, online: http://www.mutualist.org/id88.html )

I really don't agree with the rest of the post it's quoted in, but don't really feel knowledgeable enough to jump into the comment thread (although it's really interesting).

Searching for Kevin Carson on Libcom found me this thread, which also... contains pretty fucking interesting ideas, but once again leaves me feeling like i would be flamed or laughed out of the thread if i tried to respond. When it comes to the subcategories of anarchism, i always seem to find myself stuck somewhere between the anarcho-communist/anarcho-syndicalist consensus at Libcom and the individualist, pro-market anarchism of people like Johnny Red or Rad Geek, with each "side" generally regarding me as the other.

I do really need to overcome my fear/inability of stepping into discussions without getting flamed and/or ridiculed by all sides, although every time i think i have, there seems to be another setback (this, for example). Or maybe i just need to stop letting it affect me so much... but then, maybe that line of thinking is internalised oppression from a lifetime of neurotypical people trivialising and ridiculing my serious emotional reactions to... just about everything. I don't know.

Anyway, hopefully some proper posts soon...