An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds
Professor of Contemporary Literatures and Film
I came to Leeds in September 2000 after spending 7 years working at Trinity College, Dublin and my research interests are varied and range across cultures and time periods. The focus of my research lies in medical humanities and cultural disability studies, and I am the Director of the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities, a multidisciplinary research centre that works with both academic and non-academic partners. I have a special interest in autism and associated cognitive conditions and my most recent book is Autism, published in September 2011 as the first volume in Routledge’s new ‘Integrating Science and Culture’ series, which aims to look at high-profile contemporary cultural, scientific and health issues from as broad a knowledge base as possible. My work has a specific focus on issues of cultural representation and narrative and in 2008 Liverpool University Press published my monograph Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination as the first book in its ‘Representations: Health, Disability, Culture and Society’ series, which I co-edit with Robert McRuer of George Washington University. My major writing project at the moment is a book-length study of the relationship between disability and the posthuman, with a focus on a variety of 20th and 21st century texts, events and debates.
I was initially trained, in New Zealand, as a postcolonialist however, and I still maintain a strong interest on the literatures, film and cultural history surrounding the issues of postcolonial encounter and settlement, especially that from New Zealand and the Pacific. In 2008 I published one of the first monographs on an Indigenous filmmaker when I examined the work of pioneering Maori director Barry Barclay in my book Images of Dignity: Barry Barclay and Fourth Cinema, and I have also co-edited two collections of essays on New Zealand cinema.
I bring my research interests together in my current work on postcolonial health, especially in connection to Indigenous cultures, but I have also widened this in research I am undertaking with colleagues in the School of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, looking at questions of diagnosis and autism in a comparative study of health users in Hong Kong and the UK. I also co-edited (with Clare Barker) a 2010 special issue (vol. 4, issue 3) of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies entitled ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’.
My sense of my own research is that, because of the areas it covers, it necessarily has to extend beyond the written word. In Leeds I work closely with the NHS and community health groups, trying to bring research questions surrounding health and disability to bear on issues of policy, and nationally I work with charities, reading groups and disability activists. I am also working with composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, the DARE Opera North/University of Leeds Cultural Fellow, on an opera based on autistic experience.
I am on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including: Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Journal of New Zealand Literature, Studies in Australasian Cinema, and I am also the co-editor of the Leeds/Singapore based postcolonial journal Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings. I am happy to answer any questions relating to submissions to either the LUP ‘Representations’ series or to Moving Worlds, and I would be especially keen to enter into dialogue with anyone interested in discussing disability representation.
Currently, I am supervising PhD research into the following topics: contemporary representations of schizophrenia; the representation of the figure of Christ in contemporary fiction and cultural theory, post-1988 Australian fiction and the reworking of the convict narrative; representations of food in 19th and 20th C Australian cultural narratives; and cross-culturalism in the work of Caribbean novelist Wilson Harris. In the past I have supervised graduate work on a number of disability and postcolonial topics, including: the representation of disabled and exceptional children in contemporary postcolonial writing; questions of commodification and the market in narratives of cognitive disability; multiculturalism and contemporary Aboriginal women’s writing; the uses of medievalism in post-1945 writing from Australia; transgression in the journals of eighteenth-century Pacific exploration; the use of travel narratives in contemporary Caribbean writing; the work of New Zealand novelist Janet Frame; and the representation of the Pacific in nineteenth-century fiction and ethnography. I have also examined a number of PhDs both in the UK and internationally.
I would welcome interest or enquiries from potential research students thinking of working on any issue connected to representations of disability and mental health, or Australian/New Zealand writing or film (especially in connection to Indigenous cultural practice).
I give lectures, talks and lead seminars to a variety of academic and non-academic audiences. In the last 3 years I have given keynote lectures or presented invited papers in Hong Kong, Ottawa, the Einstein Institute in Berlin, New York, Liverpool, Sheffield, Lancaster, Manchester and Birmingham. I have also talked at a Special School in Newbury, at the Debating Matters event in London, been invited as a guest critic to an international film festival in Poland, and taken part in a special media panel at the National Autistic Society’s international conference. I have been on BBC Radio discussing autism, and on Canadian television talking about indigenous cinema. I enjoy the mix of academic conferences and other public engagement events.
At undergraduate level I teach across the full range of 20th and 21st literatures and film, including modern, contemporary and postcolonial. I teach a disability option module entitled ‘States of Minds: Disability and Exceptionality in Contemporary Culture’ and one focussed on conflict in Iraq and Palestine called ‘Representing Contemporary Conflict’. At postgraduate level I teach on both the Postcolonial and Modern & Contemporary MA schemes, and offer an option module entitled ‘Postcolonial Cultures of Encounter and Settlement’.