Conference Report: PRESENT DIFFERENCE – The Cultural Production of Disability (Manchester)

Just got back from „Present Difference – The Cultural Production of Disability“, a Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), that brought together academics, writers, artists, performers, broadcasters, film-makers and one design-researcher (;-)) to explore the cultural production of disability. 

A good opportunity to see the Keynotes of Lennard J. Davis, David T. Mitchell and Scharon L. Snyder  of whom I had read various papers and books already. Unfortunately I could not stay until the end, that why I missed crip theorist Robert McRuer’s closing Keynote on “Enfreakment;or, Aliens of Extraordinary Disability”. 

[Lennard J. Davis giving his keynote on „Producing Discorders of Difference: Transforming Obsessives into Cultural Icons“]


Many papers broached the issue of Disability representation in TV and movies, a topic that also found a good summary in Lennard Davis’ opening Keynote on “Producing Disordrs of Difference: Transforming Obsessives into Cultural Icons”. According to his latest book Obsession. Davis explained different social, cultural and historical roots of the creation and production of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


OCD has gone from a really rare disease in the 1950s to a very popular one nowadays (“oh, I am so OCD”). Davis states, it became an iconic disability in media and culture in general (“Obsession as a cultural goal”). In his talk, he explored some “feedback loops between scientific research, medical practice, popular culture, and the general function of illness and disease, particularly affective disorders, from a larger viewpoint than psychiatry or psychology generally offers”.

Furthermore Davis talked about embodied Difference and distinguished between identities one can choose, and such one can not choose. He linked that aspect to the general discussion about a general concept of “normality”. (“What is normal? The most important things, people want to know from their medical doctor are: Your blood pressure is normal; the baby is normal…etc”).   


[Roundtable Discussion: (f.l.t.r.:) David T. Mitchel, Stuart Murray, Robert McRuer. Not in the picture: David Bolt]


We will discuss some of the further projects and topics, seen at this conference in the following blog-entries (e.g. Simon McKeown’s animation of “MotionDisabled”, or Justin Edgar’s Film “Special People” which was screened at Manchester Cornerhouse Cinema yesterday).

Finally I would like to state, that I enjoyed the roundtable discussion at the end of Day 2, a general discussion about the future of cultureal disability studies and its struggle with internal definition and external acceptance. An important topic and obviously one hour was not enough for satisfying solutions, since this topic contains so many different aspects, including a culture of Funding, Publishing, Interdisciplinary collaborations, as well as standpoints to different research paradigms, like for example the bio-cultural concept.

Tom Bieling

I apologize for the poor quality of the picture snapshots. I forgot my camera :-/

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