At the centre of this research are questions of categorization and definition that are related to issues of empowerment, social equity and quality of life. As disability theorist Simi Linton has argued, framing and exploring disability as a political category is important precisely because of the social changes that such understandings could support (Linton 1998, p 11).
The project is timely because positivist approaches (to topics such as learning) are combining with developments in technology, to revive and strengthen clinical and medical perspectives on disability. Digital technologies can support greater social inclusion by people who experience disability, but the reification of clinical approaches to disability through various forms of technology research has potentially negative consequences for disabled people (Branson and Miller, 2002).
I have experience of facilitating impact across fields and sectors. The proposed research would build on these networks through a combination of resources, publications and events and the input of the advisory panel. This network encompasses different academic fields, educators, the games industry and the charity sector. Ensuring impact means working collaboratively with these audiences and responding to the issues identified by these experts, and building on networks established during previous research.
For example: My work with deaf users of virtual worlds became a journal article for the London Review of Education. It is now being republished in an edited book ('Reinventing Ourselves' - Identity in Virtual Worlds). While still 'in press' the paper was cited in an important report on digital inclusion, compiled for educators and policy makers (prepared by Jane Seale for the Teaching and Learning Research Programme, 2010). I convened a seminar (October 2008) on Computer Games, Access and Disability, where I presented an early version of this research. Speakers at the event included industry professionals, educators and academics in various fields. The audience came from academia, education, students, from industry, and from institutions including the Royal National Institute of the Blind. The seminar was organized in association with the London Games Fringe Festival - a festival of alternative gaming events organised by artists, academics, gamers, game developers, educators and creative professionals. After the seminar I was invited to contribute a short article on disability in virtual worlds to Access, the inclusive design journal published by the Royal National Institute of the Blind.
The timeliness of this research will help drive effective dissemination and impact. For example, recent press coverage of the athlete Oscar Pistorius (aka the 'Blade Runner') has raised pertinent questions regarding technology, identity and disability. Double-amputee Pistorius fought to participate in both the Paralympics and the Olympics, while sporting associations and the public are debating if his prosthetic legs constitute an unfair advantage.
The notion that technologies are changing how disability is experienced, defined and understood is central to this research. The application of disability theory to representations of difference, ability and disability in popular media, through evocative figures such as zombies and cyborgs, will allow for the productive yet accessible exploration of these issues.
The project's blog will publish commentary, reports and article drafts, reaching audiences beyond the academy. For more information, see the Pathways to Impact document.
Within Media and Screen Studies there is a long tradition of work that focuses on representations of gender, race, class and sexuality in popular media. Representations of disability, however, have rarely received the same degree of attention. Within the field of Game Studies there is literature that discusses disability in terms of accessibility issues, but little or none that considers the cultural politics of disability.
The research proposed here will involve the analysis of representations of disability, ability, physical damage and augmentation within horror and science-fiction themed console games. These games will be considered using perspectives drawn from disability theory, and in relation to discourses of disability and ability that circulate in culture more generally. During this research, methods for the analysis of representations in games will be refined and tested. While the focus will be on games as texts, the research will be relevant to future audience and player studies because it is attentive to issues of interpretation, method and context. The manner in which disability itself is conceptualized within and through research practice will be reflected on, and so the work will have relevance to other fields where technology, new media and disability are studied.
The aim of this study is to advance the understanding of disability as a cultural construct and a political category within media and digital technology research fields. The research is timely because digital technologies are changing how disability is experienced, and how it is perceived. Yet research in related areas too often relies on medical and clinical models of disability. Such research rarely questions or critiques disability itself. There is a need for humanities-based research that engages with disability as a political category and as a socio-cultural construct (Linton, 1998).
The work will be based at the London Knowledge Lab within the Department of Culture, Communications and Media at the Institute of Education, University of London. The research will be supported by a very experienced mentor and an interdisciplinary advisory panel. The panel includes members from various academic disciplines, the games industry and the charity sector. The participation of the mentor and the panel will ensure rigour, impact and quality. The panel will also advise on and support effective dissemination to their respective communities.
This early career Fellowship will facilitate career development and allow for the production of a project blog, journal articles, an interdisciplinary workshop, conference papers, a seminar event and a book proposal. The Fellowship will allow me to bring together and build on my previous work in the areas of digital games analysis and methodology, identity and disability. It will provide an opportunity to expand and consolidate my research experience and professional networks, and to further develop my research and publications profile with the support of a mentor, the Institute of Education, and an interdisciplinary advisory panel.