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2021/22 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL2284 ExtraOrdinary Bodies: Physical Disability in Contemporary Literature and Film

20 creditsClass Size: 20


Module manager: Dr Clare Barker

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

Module replaces

ENGL3384 ExtraOrdinary Bodies: Disability, Medicine and Normalcy in Contemporary Literatures

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module explores representations of physical disability in global contemporary fiction and film. Disability is everywhere in literature and film and often performs particular narrative functions: as a metaphor, it often signifies breakdown or dysfunctionality; as a feature of characterisation, it can be a shortcut to representations of morality (scarred villains or helpless innocent victims); as a plot device, the death or cure of a disabled character often provides closure or resolution. But how do such representations shape our understanding of disability as a lived experience or a social identity? In this module we will explore how contemporary creative texts across a varied range of genres represent embodied experience and the aesthetic, social, political and ethical questions that disability raises. We will consider how texts represent the ordinariness of disabled lives and how they frame disabled bodies as extraordinary, different, and exceptional. We will interrogate the categories, labels and assumptions we use to define human bodies and identities – normalcy, health, difference, able-bodiedness – and explore the connections and tensions between medical and experiential understandings of (dis)ability and embodiment. Over the course of the module we will cover: disability rights; discrimination and stigma; genre and form; disability and intersectionality, considering disability in relation to race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and poverty; the value of disabled lives and the ethics of preventing or curing disability. We will compare the different texts, locations and environments in which disabled bodies are produced, categorised and represented, including medical narratives and institutional spaces, freak shows, postcolonial environments, and globalised popular culture. The texts on the module include literary fiction, independent and blockbuster films, and the reading is paced to allow you plenty of time between novels. The texts are all contemporary, published/released in the last thirty years, and include British, American and postcolonial narratives. You will also read accessible and thought-provoking secondary texts from the field of disability studies that will introduce key concepts and ideas, and we will discuss representations of disability in media, current affairs and popular culture.


The aim of this module is to introduce students to the field of literary and cultural disability studies through the analysis of contemporary literature and film texts.

The key module objectives are:
• To provide students with a thorough grounding in disability studies, familiarising them with key concepts, theories and texts;
• To develop a critical vocabulary and interpretive framework for the analysis of disability representation in literature and film;
• To introduce students to academic and public debates related to disability;
• To address the connections between disability representations in literature and film and the social, political, and economic contexts of disabled peoples’ lives.

Learning outcomes
Learning outcomes
By the end of the module, students will be able to:
1. Effectively analyse representations of disability in literature, film, and popular culture;
2. Apply relevant theoretical concepts to the study of disability, health, and embodiment;
3. Engage sensitively with the identity politics of disability;
4. Relate various constructions of ‘normal’ and ‘extraordinary’ embodiment to their historical, medical, and cultural contexts;
5. Effectively analyse the aesthetic dimensions of cultural representations of the body.

Skills outcomes
Textual analysis; social and cultural critique; ethical awareness; the ability to engage in public debate about disability issues.


At the beginning of the module, students will be introduced to foundational threshold concepts in literary and cultural disability studies, including normalcy and the social model of disability. The module is then organised in three units, considering: bioethical questions relating to the value of disabled lives and experience; disability aesthetics, looking at the impact of genre and form on disability representations; and intersectional issues, which may include disability in relation to race, gender, poverty, environmental issues, and/or the postcolonial.

In most weeks, students will be required to read a primary fictional text or watch a film and read an article of secondary reading. Support for the module essay will be built into lectures and seminars.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours185.00
Total Contact hours15.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students will be expected to prepare for most seminars by reading a primary text (or watching a film), reading a piece of secondary reading, and engaging with a set of preparation questions provided in advance. When preparing for their essay students will be expected to pursue independent research, drawing on the module reading list. Students have the option of choosing an essay question/topic from a list provided or coming up with their own title, with guidance and support from the module tutor.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will be given formative feedback on their ideas in weekly seminars. Students will be encouraged to attend one-to-one essay consultations in which the tutor will offer verbal feedback on ideas and plans. Students will receive detailed written feedback on their assessments, including formative advice for future modules. The tutor’s consultation hour is a regular opportunity for students to receive additional informal and formative feedback.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4,000 words100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The cultural commentary relates the module’s ideas and theoretical frameworks to an element of contemporary culture that particularly interests the student. It is designed to encourage students to apply critical and theoretical ideas outside the seminar room and the academic essay, and to reflect upon the connections between the literature they read and the world they live in. It consists of a close reading of an aspect of contemporary culture of the student’s choice (which could be e.g. an advertising campaign, a magazine article, a Youtube video, a TED talk, a music video, a social media thread), applying some relevant theoretical material from the module or beyond (e.g. secondary reading on normalcy, on disability, on medicine, etc). Students will be offered detailed advice on this assessment in one of the lectures, written instructions available on Minerva at the start of the module, and one-to-one opportunities to discuss their ideas for the commentary.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/06/2021 10:18:02


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