Different Bodies: (Self-)Representation, Disability and the Media

University of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, 23 June 2017

This one-day conference seeks to explore representations of the body as strange, shameful, wrong, impaired, wounded, scarred, disabled, lacking, different or ‘other’ in contemporary media.

The advent of digital media has underlined the importance of visual culture and our curiosity in representations of the body to form opinions about ourselves and others. Media portrayals of bodies can affect our lives because media are one of the primary agents of socialization (Moore and Kosut, 2010). Bodies we see in newspapers, on television and in our social media feeds are often made to appear perfect in order to conform to racialized and heteronormative ideals of what it means to be beautiful and normal in contemporary capitalist societies. Presentations of the body that are white, young, slim and productive have been critiqued from different fields in academia such as feminism, queer theory, disability studies, critical theory and postcolonial studies.

The digital media landscape is posing new challenges to the study of body representation. The Internet and social media in particular have led to an increased representation and engagement with the body through practices such as selfies, webcamming, blogging, vlogging and so on. While digital media may contribute to an empowerment of excluded and silenced bodies, they may equally open up spaces of discrimination, threats, hatred, trolling and silencing online, as the #gamergatecontroversy or author Lizzie Velásquez’ self-presentation on social media have recently illustrated.

A critical approach to representations of bodies and disability is therefore essential as a means of change (Bolt, 2014). This conference aims to develop a new understanding of disability and the media in the 21st century by establishing a dialogue between different scholars on the theme of body representations. In particular, we seek to formulate new questions to comprehend how the tension between non-digital and digital media is creating spaces for new ways of framing disabled bodies. 

How are new narratives being developed to recount diversity? What is their function? What is the relationship between representation of the body in news outlets and self-representation on social media? What are the epistemological opportunities the media could embrace in order to promote equality, health literacy and ultimately, a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be human?

We encourage interdisciplinary paper presentations of 15 minutes that aim to explore how narratives and images of other bodies are constructed in the media and what their aesthetic, social, cultural, epistemological and political implications are.

Papers may draw on media and communication studies, as well as queer theory, disability studies, postcolonial studies, feminist theory, critical theory, psychoanalysis, psychosocial studies, literature, history, visual studies, anthropology, health communication, religious studies, medicine and philosophy.

Possible themes include but are not limited to:

  • Researching bodies and the media: frameworks and methodologies
  • Journalism and practices of othering the body
  • The mediated body as spectacle
  • Celebrity bodies and the spectacles of transformation
  • The abject body
  • Stigma and the body
  • De-colonizing and de-westernising the mediated body
  • Neoliberalism, policy and austerity politics
  • (Dis)Empowerments of the disabled body
  • The objectification of the disabled body in the media
  • Contemporary coverage of disability in print/online/television/radio
  • Reality television and the body
  • Auto-ethnographic accounts of the body in / through digital media
  • The medicalised body in the media
  • Representing wounds and scars
  • Affective labour of bodies
  • The body and trauma
  • This conference is part of the research project ‘Facial Disfigurement in the UK Media: From Print to Online’, led by Dr. Diana Garrisi

(University of Westminster) and Dr. Jacob Johanssen (University of Westminster) that is financed through the University of Westminster Strategic Research Fund. Invited speakers include Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy at the UK charity Changing Faces
(http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/).

Please send in abstracts of no longer than 500 words to both Jacob Johanssen (j.johanssen@westminster.ac.uk) and Diana Garrisi (d.garrisi2@westminster.ac.uk) by
28th April 2017
. Conference attendance will be free. We seek to provide an open and inclusive space for everyone.