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

  • University of Westminster London United Kingdom

University of Westminster (London, UK)

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. 

Conference attendance will be free and registration will open in late spring.