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Disability and Film Research Group

Disability and Film Research Group


Jules Sturm (ASCA); Anja Hiddinga (AISSR)


Patricia Pisters, Ymke Kelders, Sofia Apostolidou (PhD ASCA), Lieke Hettinga, Matt Cornell, Mikki Stelder (PhD ASCA), Katerina Kolarova (Charles University Prague), Jacqueline Kool (DSiN), Sofie Sergeant (DSiN), Manon Parry, Bruis Gray, Elvira van Eijl

Description of the research group:

The research group Disability and Film is dedicated to the theoretical study of disability in film. The purpose of this research group is to explore the critical and productive relations between disabilities and the moving image. Following W.J.T. Mitchell’s study on madness in film (2012) the goal of this group is to put into question the cultural visibility of disability and the structural (dis)ability of visuality, whether in popular culture movies, independent films, video diaries, documentary films, and artistic projects. The research group starts from two main questions: What is at stake in the visibility of disability? What can movies and extended cinema bring to the subject of disability in theory and society?

Some researchers in this program take disability as a critical concept, engaging it in theories of embodiment, identity, politics, social life and art. Others examine the role of disability experience in visual representations of medical practices and health care. Disability studies has not enjoyed a lot of promotion in Dutch academia, and is still only barely taught in MA programs at Dutch universities. Despite the growing acknowledgement of the relevance of questions around disability in society, the critical aspects of disability theories, which promise to question not only contemporary representations of marginalized bodies in culture, but also offer crucial tools for critical analyses of culture in general, have been curiously absent from Dutch university curricula and research programs until now. The humanities and social science perspectives on the multiple meanings of disability in today’s culture of “perfect bodies” is a crucial intervention and extension of existing discourses and social engagement relating to the lives of disabled people.

The research group is intended as cross-disciplinary project which should inspire scholars working on either film or disability theories to collaborate and exchange thought on their own research. The ultimate goal of the research group will be to foster more interdisciplinary academic research on disability, to organize expert meetings and symposia, and finally to promote critical disability studies (MA and PhD level) at Dutch universities. Another specific aim of this group is to bridge the gaps between disability theory and social practice, between film theory and everyday culture.

Envisaged results:

Several articles, expert meetings, seminars, summer school, film festival, promotion of an MA program on disability, funding of 2 PhD positions

Work plan and time schedule:

The program will run for minimally 4 years: 2015-2019
Participants collaborate to prepare expert meetings, seminars, and other events that this program will organize in collaboration with external partners.

Societal relevance:

Disability is not only a lived experience for many subjects in our contemporary society, it is also a cultural, political, and historical concept through which bodies in general are being defined.  Public debates on impaired embodiment or mental health often fail to reflect the complexity of disability as a cultural phenomenon that crucially informs our contemporary visual culture, identity politics, and social stigmatization. This group wants to contribute to a widened and more diverse discussion of disabled life-experience in the general public. The research project starts from the presumption that visual culture and theory can generate resistance, social critique, and creative interventions in the construction of cultural norms. The group will seek active collaboration with disability advocates, art museums, filmmakers, and artists to organize public events such as film screenings and art expositions.

This group is active in the following constellations:



Arts and Aesthetics


Cultural and Social Critique

Health, Care and the Body (AISSR)