Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

Dr Clare Barker

Dr Clare Barker
Lecturer in English Literature


+44 (0)113 343 4750

Dr Clare Barker BA (Durham); MA (Leeds); PhD (Leeds); PGCLTHE (Birmingham).

My main research and teaching interests are in the areas of contemporary and postcolonial literature, medical humanities, and disability studies. I was appointed at Leeds in 2012 as a Lecturer in English Literature with a specialism in Medical Humanities, and I am closely involved in the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. Previously, I had a lectureship at the University of Birmingham, and I first developed my interest in postcolonial literatures and cultures when studying as a postgraduate here in the School of English at Leeds.

Research Interests

My research to date has focused on postcolonial literatures and cultures, and it engages centrally with disability studies and medical humanities. I’m interested in the ways in which disability, health and illness are constructed in local and global contexts, and how fiction can transform our understanding of embodied difference, medical encounters, and the politics of health. My book, Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children, Metaphor and Materiality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), analyses the representation of disabled children in postcolonial writing from South Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. It examines the metaphorical functions of disability within postcolonial writing, where disabled children are often understood to symbolise postcolonial nation-states – ‘damaged’ and fragile, yet embodying the potential for radical difference. Its central focus, though, is on the material representation of disabled children as agents and citizens, engaging with fiction writers’ perspectives on the politics of healthcare, citizenship, normalcy and discrimination in postcolonial societies. I have recently co-edited two special issues of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies. The first (co-edited with Stuart Murray) was entitled ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’ (2010) and was one of the first publications to consider the points of convergence between disability and postcolonial studies. The second (co-edited with Siobhan Senier) is on ‘Disability and Native American/Indigenous Studies’ and will be published later in 2013. I am committed to developing interdisciplinary research between the fields of postcolonial and disability studies, and am an editorial advisory board member for the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies.

At the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities, I am contributing to the development of a major research strand on Colonial and Postcolonial Health. This was launched by a research salon in March 2012, in conjunction with the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, and will include further events, guest speakers and research projects throughout 2013.

I am a comparative postcolonialist and have published on literature from diverse regions, including New Zealand, the Indian subcontinent, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. One of my most enduring interests within postcolonial studies, though, is in indigenous literatures and film. Alongside indigenous health and medicine, I am particularly interested in questions of sovereignty, indigenous politics and activism, and indigenous perspectives on bioethical issues.

Current research project

My current research project, tentatively entitled Literature and Medical Activism, will explore the representation of health crises, global biomedical debates, and health-related community activism in postcolonial literatures and film. I am interested in the way fictional texts engage with real-world medical emergencies and the forms of grassroots activism that emerge in response to them, and in the way that literary and film texts may themselves constitute activist responses to such emergencies. The project will interrogate the culturally mediated notion of ‘health’ and will cover issues such as: post-disaster medicine and healthcare; the role of charities, aid campaigns, and bodies such as the World Health Organization; indigenous responses to developments in genetic biotechnology; and cultural safety in healthcare. I have so far begun work on two strands of this project. The first considers how indigenous literature depicts indigenous activism against the Human Genome Diversity Project, which raised considerable ethical questions regarding the ownership of human genes and bodies and the relationship between genetic research and the wellbeing of those being researched. The second looks at fictional representations the 1984 Bhopal disaster, which killed many thousands of people and, due to a toxic groundwater supply, continues to cause congenital disabilities, reproductive disorders, and to affect the physical and mental health of local residents in multiple ways. Here, I am interested in the way that fictional writing intersects with other forms of disaster representation such as journalism, charity and aid campaigns, particularly with regard to the representation of sick and disabled people.

Recent activities

My book, Postcolonial Fiction and Disability, was shortlisted for the 2012 CCUE Book Prize, a prize awarded annually for the best scholarly book in the field of English studies by an early career academic.

In June 2012 I was invited to guest lecture at the Unical Summer School in Cultural and Literary Studies, University of Calabria, Italy. This involved lecturing and guiding workshops for postgraduate students on the theme of ‘Complex Embodiments: Illness, Pain and Disability in Contemporary Culture’.

In March 2012 I was an invited participant in a discussion at the House of Commons on ‘Access for all to Healthcare? Reflections on ethnicity and healthcare in the UK’, hosted by the Industry and Parliament Trust.

I have recently organised several research events, including:

  • A cross-sector workshop on ‘Disability, Austerity, and Inequality’ (with Qulsom Fazil), 21 September 2012.
  • The second biennial conference of the Postcolonial Studies Association, ‘Postcolonialism, Economies, Crises: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’ (with Dave Gunning), 7-8 July 2011.
  • A Wellcome Trust-funded seminar series on ‘Transforming Bodies: New Directions in Medical Humanities and Cultural Disability’ (with Stuart Murray and Ria Cheyne), 2010-11.

Recent invited papers and keynote lectures include:

  • ‘The Bhopal Disaster, Literature, and Charity Advertising’, invited paper for the Culture and Disability: Changing Attitudes seminar series, Liverpool Hope University, 7 November 2012.
  • ‘Indigenous Health, Activist Literature, and the Human Genome Diversity Project’, invited paper for the Symposium on Colonial and Postcolonial Health, Institute of Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Leeds, 26 March 2012.
  • ‘Postcolonial Fiction and the Materiality of Disability’, invited paper for the English Research Seminar, University of Southampton, 14 March 2012.
  • ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’, invited paper for the Oxford Postcolonial Writing and Theory Seminar, University of Oxford, 9 February 2012.
  • ‘Exceptional Children: Disability and Postcolonial Fiction’, invited paper for the staff research seminar, Newman University College, Birmingham, 4 October 2011.
  • ‘Postcolonial Literatures and the Materiality of Disability’ (with Stuart Murray), keynote lecture, Literary, Cultural, and Disability Studies: A Tripartite Approach to Postcolonialism, Centre for Disability Research, Lancaster University, 1 June 2009.



Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children, Metaphor and Materiality (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Edited special issues

Guest co-editor (with Siobhan Senier), Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, 7.3, Special Issue: Disability and Native American/Indigenous Studies (forthcoming 2013).

Guest co-editor (with Stuart Murray), Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, 4.3, Special Issue: Disabling Postcolonialism (2010).

Journal articles and peer-reviewed articles in edited collections

‘“The Ancestors Within”: Genetics, Biocolonialism, and Medical Ethics in Patricia Grace’s Baby No-Eyes’, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, 7.3 (forthcoming 2013).

‘Disability and the Postcolonial Novel’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel, ed. Ato Quayson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

‘Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism’ (co-authored with Stuart Murray), to be reprinted in The Disability Studies Reader, ed. Lennard J. Davis, 4th edition (London: Routledge, forthcoming 2013).

‘Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism’ (co-authored with Stuart Murray), Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, 4.3, Special Issue: Disabling Postcolonialism (2010), 219-36.

‘Interdisciplinary Dialogues: Disability and Postcolonial Studies’, Review of Disability Studies, 6.3, Special Forum: Theorising Culture and Disability: Interdisciplinary Dialogues (2010), 15-24.

‘“Bionic Waewae” and “Iron Crutches”: Turangawaewae, Disability and Prosthesis in Patricia Grace’s Dogside Story’, Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings, 8.2, Special Issue: ‘New’ New Zealand (2008), 120-33.

‘Self-Starvation in the Context of Hunger: Health, Normalcy and the “Terror of the Possible” in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 44.2 (2008), 115-25.

‘From Narrative Prosthesis to Disability Counternarrative: Reading the Politics of Difference in Potiki and the bone people’, Journal of New Zealand Literature, 24.1 (2006), 130-47.

Postgraduate Supervision

I am interested in supervising research postgraduates in any of my main areas of interest, and would welcome applications on the following topics:

  • Any aspect of disability representation in literature and film
  • Comparative postcolonial literatures and cultures
  • Literary or interdisciplinary medical humanities topics
  • Contemporary British fiction
  • Interdisciplinary disability studies
  • Indigenous literature and film
  • Teaching

In the 2012-13 academic year, I am teaching on the first-year undergraduate module Prose: Reading and Interpretation and the second-year module Literature of the Romantic Period. At MA level, I am teaching Postcolonial Representations, the core module on the MA in Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies, and contributing to the Modern to Contemporary module. I supervise undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations on contemporary and postcolonial literature and health/disability topics.

I greatly enjoy teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. I have a special interest in disability issues in higher education and I am committed to improving accessibility for students with physical and cognitive differences in whatever ways I can.

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