Disability Studies and Horror

deadline for submissions: 
June 23, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association
contact email: 

Conference Information:

November 7-9, 2019

Pittsburgh Marriott City Center

112 Washington Place

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219


Word Count: 300 words

The Disability Studies Area of the MAPACA, a regional organization of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA), seeks papers for a panel on the intersection of Disability Studies with the Horror Genre. One of the most influential strains of Disability Studies has been critical approaches to media such as literature and film. Disabled characters abound in the horror genre, and disability often features as a thematic focus.

However, scholarly work has tended to read horror texts as merely exploitative or as reinforcing stigma, relying on and confirming fears of disabled bodyminds. For example, David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder propose that the primary fate of disabled characters in horror is “obliteration,” or death, because the horror of disability is too great to live with. Leonard Kriegel’s “demonic cripple,” originally applied to Shakespeare’s Richard III, has been used to label horror icons such as Frankenstein’s monster, Quasimodo, and the Phantom of the Opera.

While not excluding such readings, this panel invites papers that seek to uncover more nuanced, complicated, and productive interpretations. For example, Angela Smith’s Hideous Progeny demonstrates the way that the early horror cinema of classical Hollywood both draws from eugenic concepts of disability as moral and biological degeneracy, while simultaneously challenging eugenic ideals by its fascination with disability and questioning normalcy as a stable category. With disability practically everywhere in the horror genre, from classic novels and films to comic books, TV shows, and video games, we hope to explore the many ways that understanding horror can shed light on the varied cultural attitudes toward disability.

Recommended topics include but are not limited to:

  • Interpretations that uncover a previously unexplored disability aspect or disability-related context for a text
  • The function of “madness” in horror (e.g., Poe, Lovecraft, Thomas Harris)
  • Readings of disabled villains that reveal a function other than fear of disability
  • Reception-oriented readings: how do actual disabled readers/viewers respond to disability in horror?
  • Examining accessibility issues in production or consumption (e.g., portrayal by disabled actors; the way audio description shapes viewing experience)
  • Applying specific concepts such as Robert McRuer’s compulsory able-bodiedness or Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s misfit to horror
  • Ways in which disability in horror intersects with class, gender, sexuality, race, or other marginalized identities
  • How might portrayals of disability in horror allow us to rethink or resist normalcy?
  • Culture-specific inflections of disability in horror (e.g., German, Swedish, French, etc.)
  • Subgenre-specific inflections of disability in horror (e.g., Southern gothic, zombies, vampires, psychological, exploitation)
  • Disability in “backwoods” horror – reading the disabled “redneck”
  • Disability in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series
  • Representations of a particular disability across multiple texts

Please send abstracts of up to 300 words or questions to sydlik.1@osu.edu by 11:59pm on Sunday, June 23. Include your name and email address on the abstract.