Exploring representations of physically disabled women in theory and literature.

WRIGHT, Diane J. (2008). Exploring representations of physically disabled women in theory and literature. Masters, Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom)..

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Abstract

Over the course of the twentieth century feminist and disability discourses have become more intertwined: both focus on the body, both contest notions of passivity, amongst other things both examine issues surrounding patriarchy, and, most importantly, both consider the power of representations in literature. This enables a cross-functional approach to reading representations (i.e. from a feminist and disability viewpoint) of the physically disabled female characters and has implications for our understanding of the body.Drawing on a range of theoretical approaches, the thesis focuses on the way in which physically impaired (or non-normate) female bodies are represented in literature. It interprets cultural constructions of such bodies in relation to discourses of surveillance, femininity and disability. The arguments are underpinned by notions of power, discourses and the body proposed by Foucault (1970/1966,1977/1975,1981/1976). However, because he posits the body as a site of discursive construction, Foucault's work is supplemented by Bourdieu's (1991) idea of the body as agentive in its own right. The ways in which feminist and disability researchers' have applied or critiqued Foucault and Bourdieu's work is also explored (e.g. Bordo 1993a; Shildrick and Price 1999b; Wendell 1996). The thesis appropriates aspects of disability discourses, for example Mitchell's (2002) notion of disability as narrative prosthesis in novels is extended to encompass research on femininity and female embodiment. The resulting discussion of specific characters indicates that this concatenation acts as narrative prosthesis in ways that disability alone cannot. For example, how representations of physically disabled women indicate they are both the object of and subject to heightened surveillance --- i.e. they become ultravisible. Moreover, account is taken of the fact that such representations should be read in relation to the dominant ideology presented within the texts as well as historico-cultural perceptions of the non-normate body.The extent to which fluctuating femininity and the mutability of physically disabled women's bodies are related to the ways that bodies are 'idealised' is apparent in fictional representations. Such representations often serve to delineate the fluctuating normate yet increasingly idealised body. In this investigation, characters who become impaired appear to lose their femininity, while other similar characters have their femininity enhanced towards an 'ideal'. Conversely, characters whose impairment is cured can also appear to have their femininity denied. Gender issues permeate these characterisations, resulting in a situation whereby most non-normate female characters have their sexuality denied by other characters.Finally, the thesis lays out the reasons for this cross-theory approach and the implications of putting it into practice for literary criticism, feminist and disability research.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Additional Information: Thesis (M.Phil.)--Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom), 2008.
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: EPrints Services
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2018 17:22
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2018 13:39
URI: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/20572

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