All in the Mind: Adaptations of Mental and Cognitive Disability in Popular Culture

deadline for submissions: 
April 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Whitney Hardin & Julia Kiernan, Kettering University
contact email: 

Call for Proposals

All in the Mind: Adaptations of Mental and Cognitive Disability in Popular Culture


Whitney Hardin, Kettering University

Julia Kiernan, Kettering University


Historically, few nuanced depictions of mental health have existed in popular media. Most narratives frame mental and cognitive disability as a deficiency: “‘[b]roken brains’ ‘chemical imbalances’ and ‘disordered neuronal pathways’ are the widely used metaphorical frames that link mental difference to our bodies, our brains and our genes” (Lewis 1). Consequently, "disability studies, with its emphasis on the body and not the mind, creates fissures through which attention to the mentally disabled easily falls" (Prendergast 46). A glance at film and television supports these deficit models, which have served to demonize institutions (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, American Horror Story: Asylum), connect mental illness to violence (The Shining,Psycho, Donnie Darko), use illness in gimmicky ways (Fight Club; Me, Myself, & Irene; Atlanta), or position disability within the realms of comedy or romance (What About Bob?, The Fisher King,Splendor in the Grass, Garden State, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Additionally, such representations often connect mental disability and issues of gender (Girl, Interrrupted; Silver Linings Playbook; Unsane), and have a tradition of confusing mental disability and nonconforming gender/sexuality (Silence of the Lambs). This by no means exhaustive list doesn’t include the ways mental disability is portrayed in other mediums, such as graphic novels, fan fiction, comics, video games, music, YouTube, etc, etc.


Remakes, reboots, and adaptations often function in popular media as an avenue of revitalization, a common tactic for breathing new life into tired narratives—bringing them up to date and making them accessible for contemporary audiences. For narratives of mental disability, such revitalization also provides an opportunity to more openly address and complicate questions of mental and cognitive health. Consequently, recognizing that “narrative choices” are “not simply rational or medical choices,” but “also ethical choices” (Lewis 1), this collection argues that contemporary media have a responsibility to consider and (potentially) take advantage of these opportunities as they recycle, rehash, and remix out-dated, existing narratives of mental and cognitive disability. To these ends, this collection examines how contemporary media has succeeded or failed to shift away from deficit-based biomedical models, which regularly disempower characters through expectations of definitive diagnosis and recovery. We welcome contributions that understand mental difference through “psychoanalytic, cognitive- behavioural, existential/humanist, family, social/- political, creative, spiritual and integrative models, to name a few” (Lewis 1). The editors are particularly interested in how reboots and remakes present narratives and characters’ experiences as palatable, relatable, and acceptable; particularly in light of audiences who embody increased knowledge, acceptance, and normalization of mental and cognitive disability. Chapters that examine how adaptations navigate past injustices, authenticate experience, and take up societal norms are encouraged.

This edited collection, intended as a volume for Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield’s Remakes, Reboots and Adaptations series, invites analysis from scholars working in areas such as interdisciplinary humanities, gender studies, race, sexuality, disability, cultural studies, fan studies, sociology, rhetoric, etc.

In particular, we are asking for proposed chapters that consider the following questions/issues:


  • Intersections between mental disability and gender/race/ethnicity/class/etc. 

  • Disability, culture, and identity

  • Issues of nostalgia in mental health 

  • Issues of recycling and stereotyping 

  • Mental health narratives and historical (in)accuracies

  • Challenging narratives which previously avoided, ignored, or dismissed mental disability

  • Adaptations that increase the presence of neurodiversity 

  • Disability in relation to comic studies 

  • Casting choices for narratives/characters with disability

  • Portrayals of mental disability in media for YA/children

  • Disability and classism in relation to superheroes

  • Disability and science-fiction or fantasy 

  • Disability as villainy 

  • Mental and cognitive disability in horror genres

  • The visibility/invisibility of mental disabilities 

  • Medical and social models of disability

  • Queering disability 

  • Mental health remakes/re-adaptations and the internet

  • Fandom and fan reactions to portrayals of mental disability

  • Ethics and deficit modeling in mental health

  • De-romanticization of mental and cognitive disability

  • Mental disability and addiction

  • Authentication of mental and cognitive disability


Deadline for Proposals: 500 word abstract and a 100 word bio are due 15 April 2020. Send as email attachments (preferably MS Word) with the subject line “All in the Mind Proposal” to Whitney Hardin ( and Julia Kiernan ( Inquiries are encouraged and welcome. Authors whose abstracts are provisionally accepted for inclusion will be notified by 5 July 2019.


Proposals Due: April 15, 2020

Provisional Acceptance: May 15, 2020

Manuscripts Due: December 15, 2020

Projected Publication: Summer 2021