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New Book Explores Disabilities in the Field of Media Studies

Posted: November 2, 2017
Bill Kirkpatrick

GRANVILLE, Ohio—Denison professors are innovators in their fields. A new book, “Disability Media Studies,” co-edited by Bill Kirkpatrick, associate professor of communication, introduces key ideas and offers a sense of the new frontiers and questions in the emerging field of disability media studies. The book is co-edited by Elizabeth Ellcessor, assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.

“People with disabilities are all over the media,” said Kirkpatrick. “You have Dr. House with his limp on ‘House,’ or King George VI with his stutter in ‘The King’s Speech,’ or Artie in his wheelchair in ‘Glee.’ But despite disability being all over film and television, people who study and write about the media almost never write about disability except in passing. They write a lot about race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, and all kinds of other social differences, but disability remains largely ignored or only superficially understood. So we hope this book will show media scholars why disability is important and how, by paying attention to disability and able-bodiedness, we can gain a lot of important new insights into the media and society.”

“Although the book is scholarly, it is pitched to be accessible and comprehensible, and a lot of our case studies are really timely and relatable: Lady Gaga, Iron Man, the Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who runs on carbon-fiber blades, the web comic ‘Hyperbole and a Half,’ television commercials for anti-anxiety medicines, and many more. I think that anyone with an interest could pick up this book and begin to see both the media and disability in new ways.” Kirkpatrick added.

The book provides a comprehensive overview for anyone interested in the study of disability and media today. Case studies include familiar contemporary examples as well as historical media, independent disability media, reality television, and media technologies. The contributors consider disability representation, the role of media in forming cultural assumptions about ability, the construction of disability via media technologies, and how disabled audiences respond to particular media artifacts.

The volume concludes with afterwords from two different perspectives on the field, one by disability scholar Rachel Adams, the other by media scholars Mara Mills and Jonathan Sterne, that reflect upon the collection, the ongoing conversations, and the future of disability media studies.

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