NEW deadline to submit abstract: 31st January 2020 (Friday)

Call for Papers

We invite proposals for papers to be included in a symposium and an edited book entitled, Embodied and socially constructed?:  Dis/ability in media, law, and history. The symposium will be held at Suffolk University, Boston, from July 29-31, 2020. We anticipate the anthology will publish at the beginning of 2021.

Whereas the older medical model of dis/ability saw people as physically, mentally, or otherwise lacking in ways that could be calculated as deficits, dis/abilities scholars now more broadly explore the variety of human bodies and their interactions with the social world.  The strong version of the social construction approach would say that bodily attributes are basically irrelevant, as their meanings will be determined entirely by ideologies. [1] A strong version of embodiment theory, while not ignoring ideology, grounds its analysis almost entirely in the bodily senses and corporeality. [2] Despite their shared rejection of the medical model, proponents of constructivist and embodiment theories have frequently disagreed on how to understand the relationship between bodies and society.

The fields of Media Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and History have been at the vanguard in exploring the intersectionality [3] of race, gender, class, etc., but, with notable exceptions, have not significantly theorized dis/ability.  For example, media studies scholars highlight subjectivity and affects, but have not considered how both are embodied experiences; legal scholars currently focus on whether dis/ability laws can or should be used to help solve problems related to other identities, such as race; while history has focused on dis/ability but without engaging meaningfully with Critical Disability Studies.  This symposium and book will bring together interdisciplinary and intersectional scholarship on the simultaneous embodiment and social construction of dis/abilities.  We will thus ask how Media Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and History can interrogate dis/abilities at the nexus of corporeality and meaning making. Using the term “dis/ability” highlights the spectrum of disabilities and abilities and rejects the assumption that abilities are the norm. [4] Moreover, it acknowledges what a person can do rather than what one cannot.  Lastly, it sees dis/abilities as processes rather than permanent states.


Note [1] Social construction theory declares that “society creates [identity] categories and imbues them with meanings, which often change across place and time”; society makes people’s attributes into materially consequential “dis/abilities” by labelling them as such.  Ann C. McGinley & Frank Rudy Cooper, Dis/ability, Racial Stress, and Intersectional Cohorts, 47 Fordham Urb. L.J.  (forthcoming 2019) (manuscript dated September 30, 2019 at 28, 28-30).

Note [2] Embodiment theory thinks about “bodily experience . . .” by considering how people use their senses, be they physical, emotional, or otherwise, to interact with “the world, vulnerabilities, capabilities, and constraints as they arise within specific times and places.”  See Abby Wilkerson, Embodiment, in Key Words for Disability Studies 67 (Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin eds. 2015). Found at

Note [3] According to key social theorists Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, “Intersectionality is a way of understanding . . . complexity . . . .  The events and conditions of social and political life . . . . are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways.”  Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality 2 (2016).

Note [4] Editors of the DisCrit anthology describe two reasons for using this term:

(We utilize the term dis/ability to (1) counter the emphasis on having a whole person represented by what he or she cannot do, rather than what he or she can, and (2) disrupt notions of the fixity and permanency of the concept of disability, seeking rather to analyze the whole context in which a person functions.).

Subini Ancy Annamma, David J. Connor, and Beth A. Ferri, A Truncated Genealogy of DisCrit, in DisCrit: Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education 1-8, 1 (David. J. Connor, Beth A. Ferri, and Subini A. Annamma eds. 2016).

We will accept novel arguments from one or more of the fields of Media Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and History that approach dis/ability within the framework of the debate between embodiment and social constructivist perspectives. Authors are especially encouraged to consider the intersectionality of dis/abilities with both other identities and other structures of power.  Some questions that papers might ask include the following:

  • How, when, and where do people realize they have dis/abilities?
  • How do dis/abilities function as lenses of experiences?
  • How does (or does not) dis/ability shape identity/selfhood?
  • How do social/civic institutions shape experiences of dis/ability?
  • To what extent do dis/abilities compare and contrast with race, gender, class, and so on, as categories or vantage points of analysis?
  • How is the representation and treatment of people with neurodiversity similar or dissimilar to that of persons with non-normative physical abilities?
  • How do cultural anxieties produced by the visibly disabled, people having imperceptible dis/abilities, and dis/ability as a concept compare and contrast with one another?
  • What are the costs and/or benefits for people with dis/abilities of drawing attention to non-normative bodily and mental attributes in their campaigns for equitable treatment?
  • Does considering pain to be both a physical experience and a site of meaning-making make it a particularly useful point of departure for analysis of dis/ability?

Regardless of an author’s topic, the editors will review all proposals and make selections based on quality and relevance to the project’s underlying themes.  Both veterans of DisCrit theory and emerging scholars are encouraged to submit proposals.  Authors of accepted proposals will be expected to participate in the “Embodied and socially constructed?:  Dis/ability in media, law, and history” symposium.  Symposium participants will provide a high-quality draft paper at the symposium, which will be read in advance by other attendees and thus not formally presented; provide constructive feedback on others’ papers during the symposium; and finalize polished book chapters shortly thereafter.  Participants in the symposium are rebuttably presumed to be accepted into the published book.

Interested contributors should note the following deadlines:

1. Friday, January 31st 17th, 2020

Send a 250-750-word abstract with a working title, biography or CV, and contact information to, placing “Symposium” in the header

2. Friday, February 28th, 2020

The editors will notify contributors of their acceptance into the symposium

3. Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

Final deadline to submit a 5,000-7,500-word paper for peer review among symposium participants

4. Thursday, July 9th-Tuesday, 28th, 2020

Read three to five drafts of other participants’ papers and prepare oral feedback

5. Wednesday, July 29th-Friday, July 31st, 2020

Symposium in Boston: Make a brief (5 minutes) presentation at the symposium then receive feedback from other participants and also discuss others’ drafts

6. Monday, August 3rd, 2020

Editors will confirm that papers have been accepted for publication

7. Monday, August 24th, 2020

Submit final 5,000-7,500-word book chapter for editing and publication


    The symposium organizers/book editors:

    Frank Rudy Cooper

    William S. Boyd Professor of Law and Director, Program on Race, Gender, and Policing

    University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law

    Micky Lee

    Associate Professor and Director of Asian Studies Program

    Communication, Journalism and Media Department

    Suffolk University, Boston

    Pat Reeve

    Chair and Associate Professor

    History Department

    Suffolk University, Boston

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