Disability Studies and Literature (DSAL 2020, 6-7 March Hong Kong)

deadline for submissions: 
December 31, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Department of English, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Call for Papers


Conference title: Disability Studies and Literature

Date of conference: 6th- 7thMarch 2020


This conference will be a student-led academic event organized by the English Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and supported by the University’s Wellness and Counselling Centre under the Office of Student Affairs. 


Scope and delimitation:

In The Cambridge Companion to Disability Studies(2018), Stuart Murray and Claire Barker go so far as to claim that disability is everywhere in literature. They write: “[w]hether in the bodies that populate countless narratives containing physical disability, or in the mental difference that informs so much detail about character and psychology, disability features in literary production as a constant presence. And it does so across all time periods, from the earliest expressions of European poetry to the contemporary global novel, and all points in between.” While Disability Studies has long been a vibrant field of research in the Anglophone research community with numerous programmes in American and UK universities, Literary Disability Studies is also now a thriving area of critical inquiry with the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies[1]being launched in 2014 and a new edited collection entitled Literary Disability Studies appearing last year.[2]


However, in the Asian context, discourses of disability often remain neglected or ignored in university syllabi. This leads not only to a lack of academic research on disability representation in different literary genres, but also to diverse cultural and social forms of neglect, ranging from inadequate social welfare and support services provided by government bodies to a lack of understanding of the centrality of disability in all our lives. Besides looking at disability via a social model, discourses of disabilityoften go hand in hand with medicine.In 2017, a single mother in Hong Kong died from a rare genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), after failing to get a new but expensive medication subsidised.[3]Patients groups and lawmakers from all sides have ever since been further urging the government to subsidise drugs for sufferers of rare genetic diseases that cost tens of thousands of dollars a month. It is only until March this year that a drug costing HK$230,000 per patient is to be made available at public hospitals across Hong Kong, now at the cost of HK$15, but prescription restrictions mean few will benefit.[4]This imposes urgent needs for timely changes to existing yet outdated laws and government policies that forbid those in the disabled community from seeking relevant medical help and resources already made available to many in other political regimes.    


The significance of reading and understanding disability is endless. Studying disability in literature helps us to explore what our culture decides is “normal” and it asks us to consider what makes us human. Literature both reflects and creates cultural messages about ability and disability, “normal” and “abnormal,” as well offering stories where the disabled can both find a voice and better understand their condition. Literature can also help us understand the lived experience of the disabled, and guide us to express our own responses to disability in our own lives and cultures.


We welcome individual papers or panel presentations that explore how texts portray people with disabilities of all kinds – physical, emotional, social, and mental. We also welcome readings of creative works, with round-table discussions, that illustrate the ways many stereotypical portrayals of the disabled undermine, invalidate, and infantilize the disabled community, and seek out literary voices that empower the disabled and question our definition of “normal.” With this conference particularly dedicated to literary disability studies, we hope to advocate for a wider awareness of disability and its lived experience, and the need to conduct further research in this critical area that ultimately concerns many, if not all of us.


Tentative keynote speakers include: 

Stuart Murray,

Professor of Contemporary Literature and Film,

Director of Centre for Medical Humanities,

University of Leeds, UK


Michael Davidson, 

Professor Emeritus of American Literature & Distinguished Professor,

University of California San Diego, USA


We seek papers for this 2-day conference on March 6-7th2020 at the Department of English of the Chinese University of Hong Kong on the following themes, and we are open to other topics related to disability, medicine and the body:


Literature and Disability

History of Disability

Disability and Gender

Transformations of the body

Philosophy of normalcy, abledness and disabledness

Trauma and affect

Disability and the law

Disability, medicine and the body in popular culture

Medical practice and issues of intersectionality

Disability and lifewriting 

Comic, film, and superhero narratives

Disability, language and learning


Please send 300-word abstracts (for 20-minute previously unpublished papers), along with a short biographical note, to disabilityconference.cuhk@gmail.com, by 31 December2019 with “DSAL2020 Conference Abstract” written in the subject line of the email. We also welcome panel proposals; these should include 300-word abstracts for up to four speakers. Full papers are to be submitted one month prior to the conference, so as to facilitate the compilation of online conference proceedings.