New book by XJTLU staff on Choice’s list of the best of 2021

27 Jan 2022

How are bodies represented in the media? Why is diversity crucial to the media and entertainment industry? How do you feel about your body?

The vulnerability of the human body is one thing that really stood out during the pandemic. And as we were all glued to our screens for news and entertainment, the body’s pervasive presence in the media brought to light the problems of publicly exposing bodies for information or entertainment through distorting lenses.

A new book published by Palgrave and co-edited by XJTLU academic staff, tackles the questions above.

Dr Diana Garrisi

Disability, Media, and Representations: Other Bodies was co-edited by Dr Diana Garrisi from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at XJTLU and Dr Jacob Johanssen from St Mary’s University, London.

Their edited collection, which features nine chapters written by different authors, has been selected as an Outstanding Academic Title of 2021 by Choice, a publishing unit of the American Association of College and Research Libraries.

Representation matters

“We collected a wide range of case studies from North Korea, Japan, South Africa, Germany, the UK, and the US to provide a global perspective into how the media contributes to conceptualising humans as intrinsically different from conventional norms,” Dr Garrisi says.

“The book sheds light on a long-standing problem that is the discriminatory media portrayal of people who don’t conform to narrow societal expectations, and thus are categorised as ‘other’.”

Bringing diversity centre stage, this book highlights that disability should not be seen as an isolated societal problem but as a human trait relatable to everyone – every individual strives to be accepted for what they are.

“As many psychology scholars remind us, being different, that is being oneself, is a beautiful act of rebellion,” Dr Garrisi says.

“We consequently address issues of representation and self-representation in different contexts and locations, through an interdisciplinary perspective,” Dr Johanssen added.

Broadening ‘disability’

Despite focusing on the representation of disability, the book goes beyond the cultural analysis of certain representational conventions.

In order to expand the disciplinary framework of the book, Dr Johanssen and Dr Garrisi called for papers from different academic fields, thus broadening the scope of the research through including discussions of media access and technology, the relationship between news and policymaking, and the reciprocal active role of social media in shaping discourses about disability.

For example, one of the central chapters is a personal account of the experience of illness. “The author uses academically unconventional expressions in an almost comedic style to share her personal cancer story,” Dr Garrisi explains.

Through deploying the full range of expressive devices, her work sounds like a form of social critique on whether the media and academia are really depicting disability.

Dr Johanssen adds: “This edited volume brings together scholars from philosophy, sociology, history, queer theory, and so on to make sure the key term ‘disability’ can be discussed in its broadest sense.”

Beyond academia

Dr Johanssen says he is “truly excited” that this work has been recognised by the public through Choice’s list of Outstanding Academic Titles.

“Questions of misrepresentation as well as self-representation of disabilities and impairments remain very important, and we hope this book can explain some current social issues from an academic perspective while at the same time bring some inspiration to further research.”

Beyond the internal influence within academia, Dr Garrisi also points out an activist aim of this book: “We hope to impact the general public, to raise people’s awareness of the importance of critically assessing the relationship between representation, disability, and the media.

“Many excellent edited collections are published every year, however, most of them tend to circulate within specific sector-based academic networks only. Hopefully, being selected by Choice will help disseminate the content further outside academic circles.”

This book is now available in the University library.

By Ying Jiang

Edited by Patricia Pieterse

27 Jan 2022