Kathryn Allan's Blog

In addition to running Academic Editing Canada, I'm an Independent Scholar of disability studies and science fiction (specializing in cyberpunk and feminist SF). I'm the proud co-editor (with Djibril al-Ayad) of Accessing the Future, a disability-themed SF anthology; editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure; and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. My PhD thesis is awesome: Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF [pdf].

ICFA--my favourite conference (and the only one I now attend)--is coming up next month. This year I have a full slate: in addition to participating on an archival research panel, I will be moderating a discussion panel I organized on "Fantasizing Disability," and presenting a paper on the character Ripley from the Alien franchise. Despite my apprehension around the current US political climate, I'm looking forward to being at ICFA and continuing important conversations about disability representation in genre (because facism is antithetical to disability rights). My abstracts follow:

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Fantasizing Disability

Genres of the fantastic present opportunities to explore worlds fundamentally different than our own, where bodily norms are questioned and disrupted. Fantasy in particular has the potential to create novel relationships to and characterizations of disability. While fantastic worlds frequently imagine diverse bodies (from elvish to gigantic to alien) interacting with each other, the genre often reduces disability to a symbolic medium and disabled characters to one-dimensional stereotypes. Fantasy (as well as science fiction and horror and all of their subgenres) abounds with disability tropes such as the curse of disability, the magical cure as a reward, the disabled villain, the disabled guru who helps the hero, the triumph narrative, and the trope of the “supercrip” (a person who gains compensatory powers for their disability). Given the necessity of integrating inclusive and realistic depictions of human diversity in genre narratives, this panel will address the representation of disabled people and disability in the field of the fantastic. How has disability representation changed since the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales of Rumpelstiltskin and wicked stepmothers? Why has disability become a mark of a character’s evil-doing or, alternatively, pure innocence (and how can we challenge these readings)? In what ways do disabled bodies act as sites of identification for the audience? What opportunities do various fantastic subgenres—from steampunk to fairy tale re-tellings—offer authors and readers in depicting and understanding disability? Located in an intersectional disability studies perspective, this panel will explore both the reductive tropes and transformative potentials of disability representation in the field of the fantastic.

Panelists: Sara Cleto, Derek Newman-Stille, Nisi Shawl, Fran Wilde Moderator: Kathryn Allan

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Beautiful on the Inside: The Alien Perfection of Ripley

Science fiction film has long explored medical science’s quest for perfection of the human physical form. Released in 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien launched one of the genres most successful franchises (spawning four other films) and created the iconic feminist action hero, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver). Drawing on feminist disability studies, my analysis of the Alien films will focus on the character of Ripley and trace the ways her narrative revolves around the anxiety of what lies unseen within the (imperfect) human body and how to achieve an ideal form. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in her foundational work, Extraordinary Bodies, coins the term normate, which refers to “the social figure through which people can represent themselves as definitive human beings” (8) (often in antithesis to the disabled or the “freak”). I argue that Ripley, at first, is this social figure, but by the end of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1997 installment, Alien: Resurrection, her body has simultaneously become more ideal and more horrible as she transcends normate humanity (from the inside out) to achieve an alien perfection.

Garland-Thomson further writes that: “When our embodied ways of being in the world come to be understood as disabilities or when we understand our way as disabled, we then enter the category” (“The Story of My Work”). Applying this framing to my reading, I am particularly interested in such moments of recognition in the Alien films: when, and in what ways, does Ripley see herself in the alien, as being something other than “normal”? In my discussion, I will address how Ripley relates to the non-normate bodies of the androids (as represented by Ash, Bishop, and Call) and of the aliens—each body offers a possible design for human physical perfection but differs in their interior authenticity (e.g., blood) and organic function (e.g., reproduction). In a universe where the alien body is declared perfect (as repeated throughout the films by various agents of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation), what then constitutes the ideal human? Through my analysis of Ripley, I hope to continue demonstrating the generative potentials of bringing a disability studies framework to science fiction in exploring the social and medical definitions of humanity, as well as in expanding the future possibilities of disability identity.

Speculative Vegetation: Plants in Science Fiction


Call for Papers (Edited Collection)

Plants have played key roles in some of the most notable science fiction, from prose to graphic novels and film: John Wyndham’s triffids, the sentient and telepathic flora in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” the gene-hacked crops of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, the agricultural experiments of Andy Weir’s The Martian, the invasive trees and mechaflowers of Warren Ellis’s Trees, and the galactic greenhouses of Silent Running represent just a few. Plants surround us, sustain us, pique our imaginations, and inhabit our metaphors — and yet in some ways they remain opaque. As Randy Laist writes in Plants and Literature (2013): “Plants seem to inhabit a time-sense, a life cycle, a desire structure, and a morphology that is so utterly alien that it is easy and even tempting to deny their status as animate organisms” (12). The scope of their alienation is as broad as their biodiversity. And yet, literary reflections of plant-life are driven, as are many threads of science fictional inquiry, by the concerns of today.

Throughout human history, plants have supported as well as controlled populations; influenced and revised how we think about ourselves, nature, temporality, and history; fostered technological innovation; and raised new legal issues, such as biomatter copyrights and the borders of non-human personhood. Even though speculations about terrestrial and extraterrestrial plant-life have ever abounded in science fiction, we are only just beginning to understand plant communication, kinship systems, and intelligence. Following the rise of fields such as ethnobotany, agricultural phonobiology, and phytophenomenology; the embrasure of ecology, environmental philosophy, and ecocriticism; and the concomitant increase in concern regarding our fragile and endangered planetary ecosystem, this edited collection is timely, if not overdue.

Science fiction allows us to speculate further on what — or who — plant life may be while exploring how we understand ourselves in relation to the mute (?) sentient (?) world of flora. Thinking about plants differently changes not just our understanding of plants themselves, but also transforms our attitudes toward morality, politics, economics, and cultural life at large. How do the parameters of good and evil, villainy, heroism, and responsibility shift when plant-based life comes into play? How do plant-based characters or foci shift our understandings of institutions, nations, borders, and boundaries? What roles do plants play in our visions of utopian and dystopian futures? How do botanical subjectivities impact our empathic reactions? Our understandings of sentience and agency? How does the inclusion (or exclusion) of plant-based life impact the genre of science fiction?

This volume will be the first to investigate the importance of plants in science fiction. We encourage contributions contending with diverse works from any and all global, national, extranational, or regional positions and all periods. In particular, we welcome essays which consider genre with broader ethical, political, aesthetic, and historical concerns tied to the representation of botanical subjects and subjectivities in science fiction across all media.

Authors are encouraged to consider, but are not constrained to, the following topics and subjects:

Authorship/readership: plant-based authors/readers

Ecocriticism/Green studies: ecology, human/animal/plant interaction and interdependence; anthropomorphism vs. plant subjectivity and agency

Empire: postcolonialism, colonialism, anti-imperialism, pastoral, anti-pastoral

Ethics: individual responsibility, corporate responsibility, global responsibility; carbon trading

Green activism: ‘eco-terrorism’; indigenous lands; environmental legislation; non-human personhood

Habitats: space exploration and colonization; extraplanetary agrarian systems; diasporas, migration, borderlands; heterotopias, utopias, New Edens, dystopias; wilderness vs domesticated

Hybridity: botanical technology; plant-animal / plant-human hybrids; arcologies

Medicine: drugs, poisons, health, ability/disability

Monstrosity: plant-animal / plant-human hybrids; dehumanization; zombification

Narratology: plant perspectives, subjectivities, narrators and/or focalizers

Sentience: consciousness, collective intelligence, ontology, posthumanism

Symbolism: plants as symbols, metaphors, metonymies

Time: alternate time scales; histories; chronologies (“tree rings”)

Value: capitalism, plants and finance; weeds, crops, ornamental

War and peace: weapons, agents of destruction; agents of salvation

Prospective contributors to this edited collection should send an abstract (300-500 words) and brief CV or short biographical statement to Katherine Bishop (kbishop[at]sky.miyazaki-mic.ac.jp), Jerry Määttä (Jerry.Maatta[at]littvet.uu.se), and David Higgins (dmhiggin[at]gmail.com).

For full consideration, abstracts are due by 30 April 2017. Completed essays of between 4,000 and 8,000 words will be due by 30 November 2017 for a projected publication date in 2018.

Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Special issue: The Intersections of Disability and Science Fiction

Guest editors: Ria Cheyne (Disability and Education, Liverpool Hope University) and Kathryn Allan (Independent Scholar, Canada)

“No other literary genre comes close to articulating the anxieties and preoccupations of the present day as clearly and critically as SF, making it a vital source of understanding advances in technology and its impact on newly emerging embodiments and subjectivities, particularly for people with disabilities.”

--Kathryn Allan, Disability in Science Fiction

Reflecting the status of science fiction as a genre that spans multiple mediums and audiences, this special issue of JLCDS seeks articles that explore the intersection(s) of science fiction, disability, and disability studies. What possibilities might science fiction or science fiction theory offer to disability activists and the field of disability studies? How might disability theory, or a disability-informed approach, enrich or transform our understanding of science fiction as a genre or as a mode of thought?

Topics might include, but are not limited to:

Representations of disability in science fiction literature, comics/graphic novels, film, art, music, video games, or television, and their implications for our understanding of genre and/or disability.

Science fiction fan culture (including conventions, fanfic and other forms of fan production).

Science fiction and prosthesis.

Science fiction and eugenics/genetic engineering.

Science fiction and the posthuman.

Accessibility and science fiction environments.

The political and ethical consequences of imagining future worlds with or without disability.

The figure of the alien or cyborg in science fiction and/or disability theory.

Disability and queerness in science fiction.

Disability and indigenous futures in science fiction.

Science fiction, disability, and medical humanities.

The influence of disability activism on professional or fan-based science fiction production.

Submissions that consider how disability intersects with other identity categories are particularly encouraged. The guest editors welcome contributions from independent scholars.

Please email a 500 word proposal to cheyner[at]hope[dot]ac[dot]uk and kathryn[at]academiceditingcanada[dot]ca by March 15, 2017. Contributors can expect to be notified by April 26, 2017. Full drafts of the selected articles will be due by December 6, 2017. Please direct any questions to either guest editor.

How to Create a Dissertation Timeline

Thursday, 02 June 2016 14:32

At the start of this year I made the tough decision to phase out my dissertation coaching services. While I really enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with clients—and I worked with and learned from some awesome people—it wasn’t sustainable for my business in the long-term, especially as my editing services have become more focused on projects that require longer periods of my attention. Although I will no longer be coaching, I still care about helping people finish their degrees so I want to share this useful planning exercise for any PhD student who is ABD: a Dissertation Audit.

Many of the requests I received for dissertation coaching came from PhD students who had been away from their program or project for several months or more due to illness, family, or work related issues. The majority of my clients found restarting the thesis process overwhelming and just weren’t sure how to get back into their work. Across the board, most PhD students severely underestimate the time it takes to write a thesis, which makes it stressful and disheartening when they miss their original anticipated deadline. Since everyone has different demands on their attention, energy and available work hours, I developed a series of questions (below) to assess the state of the existing project and identify all the resources they had available (and the ones they still needed) in order to create a reasonable and achievable timeline for completion.

 

Dissertation Audit

The first and most important question to ask is: “Do I want to complete my dissertation (and why)?” If your answer is yes, then go through this list of questions to reaffirm your decision to proceed and figure out the kind of time and resource committment that will be required to meet your goal of completion. Keep in mind that these categories overlap (e.g., the time you have available to complete your dissertation may be dependent on when your funding runs out).

Dissertation Draft(s)

  • How much of the thesis have you already drafted?
  • How much of the existing writing can be kept?
  • How much still needs to be written?
  • Do you have feedback for revisions from your supervisor and committee? How long will it take to revise your existing chapters based on the feedback?
  • Do you have a detailed outline for the entire thesis? If yes, is the outline still relevant and achievable? If no, then take the time to create an outline, start by listing (by paragraph or by subtopic) all the elements in each chapter of your current draft(s).

Research

  • Which texts have you read? Are they still relevant to your project?
  • What texts still need to be read/consulted?
  • If you still need to continue researching, make a list of all the books and articles you need from library. How long will it take for you to read the books? Are there materials that must be requested from another institution (and require additional time to process)?

Time Considerations

  • Is there a firm institutional deadline that you must meet (before funding ends or before you need to re-enroll and pay additional tuition)?
  • How much time do you have available to research and write (by the day, by the week)? Be honest with your limits and add extra time for unexpected delays and life stuff (e.g., if you think it will take 10 days to update your research resources, give yourself 13 or more days when you make your timeline).
  • Have you discussed a timeline for completion with your supervisor and committee? Are there dates when they will be unavailable (at a conference or on sabbatical)?
  • How long does it take for your supervisor and/or committee members to read and give feedback on drafts? Make sure you set clear expectations with them. You need to have your supervisor and committee on board with your timeline!

Supervisor and Committee

  • What kind of support and time is available from your supervisor? Set up an in-person meeting with them to discuss expectations and your proposed timeline for completion. Request (at minimum) monthly progress check-ins in person or over phone/email.
  • What kind of support and time is available from your committee members? Discuss with your supervisor about when to contact your committee members for feedback on drafts. How long will committee members have to respond?

Financial Considerations

  • What are the institutional deadlines for funding and tuition costs (per semester)? Figure out the cost to remain in your program for at least one year past your ideal date of completion.
  • How much personal savings are available to you? What are your financial supports outside of PhD funding?
  • How much are supplemental materials and services necessary for the completion of the dissertation (e.g., childcare, copyediting, coaching, cost of paper for printing of thesis, interlibrary loan charges, etc.)?

Other Supports and Commitments

  • Do you have familial commitments that require accommodation while working on the thesis (childcare, eldercare, spousal support, etc.)? What are your arrangements for dealing with these commitments?
  • Does your family support your thesis efforts? Do they give you the necessary time to focus on your project? Discuss boundaries and expectations for a quiet work space with the members of your household.
  • Are you working part- or full-time as you complete your dissertation? Is your employer supportive of your efforts? Can they allow you time away (if requested) to focus on the completion of your project?
  • Do you require academic coaching or editing services? Have you discussed these options with your supervisor? Determine the cost of those supplementary services and set aside the necessary time to accommodate them.
  • Are there any other resources that you require to finish your dissertation? Remember that making time for self-care (physical and mental) is important!

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