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Disability Studies in the Cultural Studies Classroom

Irene Rose, Manchester University


This paper seeks to question why disability perspectives are so conspicuously absent from the British Cultural Studies agenda. To do this the paper offers a theoretical exposition of the critical landscape encountered by both tutor and students on the first two years of a Debating Disability in the Media module introduced on a third level Media and Cultural Studies course.

British cultural studies arose out of concerns relating the changing structure of class politics after World War Two. During its development, specifically within the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, the field of study developed from engaging in classic Marxist studies of class relations to debating and theorising processes of cultural hegemony. Through this development the discipline has engaged enthusiastically [and variously] with concepts of identity, subjectivity, popular culture and agency. As the field consolidated itself as a discrete discipline within the humanities, this history led cultural theorists to focus upon how power works through class, gender, race, sexuality and ethnicity. In particular cultural studies engages with how identity groupings are produced and negotiated through all aspects of cultural representation and practice - production, dissemination, consumption, negotiation and [re]appropriation. It does so to show how all identity positionings are embedded in a political context, in which representations, metaphors, and other semiotic processes come to have enormous power. Although Cultural Studies is built upon a concern with how power is produced through hierarchical subject positions there has hitherto been a distinct paucity of engagement with disability within this debate.

Against this background and using examples of analysis from the Debating Disability in the Media course, this paper presents an overview of the current theoretical valency between British Disability Studies conceived as a discrete discipline, and the increasing drive to make disability perspectives available within the wider British HE Humanities curriculum. Positioning the theoretical and experiential in this way the paper seeks to foreground debates encountered when engaging with disability from a cultural studies perspective. It does so to locate what questions we need to address to embed the long over due inclusion of disability perspectives into British Cultural Studies.

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