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].

I haven't been posting lately because I've been going back and forth between overwork and recovering from overwork. I really, really need to break this ridiculous cycle! Anyways, that's a topic for another post--this one comes courtesy of upcoming4.me, a great online magazine about speculative fiction. They invited me to write a guest post for their "story behind" column and this is what I wrote:

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When I left academia after the completion of my PhD in 2010, I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I did know, however, that my dissertation—Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk [available for download in my "about me" box above]—was not the end of my research into the ways that technology and the body intersect in science fiction. I was proud of my thesis, but there were avenues of inquiry that I wish I had been able to follow. One of those underdeveloped approaches was reading science fiction with a disability studies framework in mind. I was acutely aware of how little published (academic) work there was on reading disability and the disabled body in science fiction. Given the vast number of characters with disabilities (plus all of the plot devices of idealized “cures,” transformative surgical interventions, genetic therapies, and fantastic prostheses) in the genre, I was having a hard time watching and reading anything science fiction(al) without critically interrogating the representations of disability I saw playing out time and again. Unable to let go of my academic interests, I decided to transform myself into an independent scholar and jump into the world of academic publishing.

My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, was a germ of an idea that finally took root during Renovation (the 2011 WorldCon). After receiving overwhelming positive support for the project from new friends and like-minded people, I returned home from the con and sent out a “call for papers” the very same week. By the end of the winter, I had 13 contributors preparing innovative and interdisciplinary readings of disability (with a focus on prostheses and the posthuman) in science fiction.

At this point in time, I should note, I had zero publications to my name. Dealing with chronic ill health and limited resources throughout my graduate career meant that I had no time or energy to pursue publishing opportunities while I was in academia. I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to publish an essay collection by a first time editor with no publishing track record. Nevertheless, I was determined to find the best press possible for Disability in Science Fiction because I believed in the value of the interdisciplinary critical analysis that it was presenting. After weighing distribution capability, promotional assistance, price point, and speed of the peer review process, Palgrave Macmillan was one of the first few publishing houses I approached. I sent my book proposal to them old-school style: I followed the directions for submissions listed on their website and, forking out the extra money for tracking and express post, mailed in my pitch. I was worried that some intern would simply shred my package on arrival, but my proposal was successful! Three weeks later the publishing house contacted me and told me they were interested in the collection (contract to be offered once the full draft was complete).

All in all, in took two years from conception to publishing the edited collection. The process of editing an academic essay collection is not a speedy one, but I think that my position as an independent scholar helped me move through the process faster than it otherwise might have gone. I selected essays that were on popular films and novels—such as George Lucas’ Star Wars, James Cameron’s Avatar, Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, and Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark— and instructed everyone to write in accessible academic language, so that (non-academic) fans of science fiction interested in the topic would also be able to read and engage with the ideas in addressed in the collection. I kept in frequent contact with the book’s contributors, gave out a lot of direction and praise (the first is easy to come by in academia, the second…not so much), and went through several rounds of drafting. Each person who wrote a chapter for Disability in Science Fiction brought a unique perspective to the questions that I previously had been working through alone. Editing this book gave me the opportunity to collaborate with scholars from across the globe, and it is an experience for which I am grateful.

Throughout the two years I worked on this project, I received amazing feedback and advice from both the academic and fan communities of science fiction. It was that support that helped me write and edit through pain flares, injuries from overwork, and fatigue. Editing the essay collection taught me that it is possible to have a voice as an independent scholar and that there is a whole community of people out there who are as passionate about the same stuff as I am. Disability in Science Fiction is one piece of the on-going scholarship that brings together science fiction and disability studies. My hope has always been that the book brings greater critical attention to the all too often negative and damaging stereotypes of people with disabilities perpetuated by science fiction, a genre that, despite its flaws, I and so many others love and take comfort in.

Disability in Science Fiction: Cover Talk

Monday, 12 August 2013 17:21

My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, is available for sale August 14th (Google for your choice of internet bookseller)!

I received my author copies late last week and the book looks beautiful. I love the cover (thanks to Andrew Holden and Tom Pepper)--I think it perfectly reflects the critical analysis going on inside. When I was brainstorming ideas for the cover, I wanted an abstract image of a person being dissected, or broken down into their physical parts. The shearing away of the mid-section stands in for the ways in which the disabled body is often medicalized into its "problem" parts (instead being viewed as a functioning whole). I also wanted to express the impact of technology on the body--the "+" and "Ø" signs represent binary code (1s and 0s). And since there is an emphasis on prostheses in book, the arm in red both marks the simultaneous absence/addition of such technology to the body.

The image can be read in a number of interesting ways, relevant to both science fiction and disability. In the design, there is a sense of transcendence from the fleshy body that I didn't anticipate coming through. I like that the figure appears to continue off the left side--no arm is visible there but the person nevertheless feels complete. Overall, I think the cover nails the focus of the content of the collection.

I hope that people enjoy Disability in Science Fiction and decide to take up their own responses to the ways in which disability and people with disabilities are represented in science fiction (and fantasy, horror, romance, mystery, and all the other understudied genres). There is a lot of critical ground to cover, images to unpack, and new stories to be written. Disability in SF is only one piece of a larger, on-going conversation and I'm excited to be part of it!

CFP - The Fan Studies Network Symposium

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 11:32

30th November 2013
University of East Anglia

Keynote: Professor Matt Hills (Aberystwyth University)

We are delighted to announce the FSN2013 symposium, taking place at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, on Saturday 30th November 2013. The keynote speaker will be Professor Matt Hills, author of Fan Cultures (Routledge, 2002) and Triumph of a Time Lord: Regenerating Doctor Who in the 21st Century (I.B. Tauris, 2010).

We invite abstracts of no more than 300 words for individual 20 minute papers that address any aspect of fandom or fan studies. We encourage new members to the network and welcome proposals for presentations on, but not limited to, the following possible topics:

-           Fan use of social media platforms
-           Fan practices
-           Activism and fandom
-           Producer-audience interactions
-           Underrepresented fan cultures
-           New modes of fan fiction
-           Ethics in fan studies
-           Politics and Fandom
-           Anti-Fandom and Non-Fandom

We also invite expressions of interest (100-200 words) from anyone wishing to host a short session of ‘speed geeking.' This would involve each speaker chairing a short discussion on a relevant topic of their choosing, and then receiving extensive feedback, making it ideal for presenting in-progress or undeveloped ideas.

The day will conclude with a series of working group discussions, which we anticipate will lead to individual and/or collaborative publication opportunities.

Please send any enquires/abstracts to: fsnconference[at]gmail[dot]com by FRIDAY 23rd AUGUST.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent out w/c 2nd September.

You can find out more information on the symposium website: http://www.uea.ac.uk/politics-international-media/events/fan-studies-network-symposium or talk about the event using #FSN2013.

So you find yourself on the outside of the ivory tower (either by choice or not) and now you want to become an independent scholar. First off, a definition for you to consider: an independent scholar is actively pursuing knowledge (and presenting/publishing it), is tangentially or not associated with a university, and does not have funding/financial support for their scholarly work. If you are still thinking “sounds good,” then here are some questions you should ask and answer before spending your time, energy, and financial resources pursuing independent scholarship:

Why do you still want to do academic research and writing when you no longer have to?

Of all the questions here, this is the “big” one to puzzle out--and the one that leads into all the other questions (and late nights second guessing yourself). When you first leave the academy, chances are you are leaving with some baggage about what it means to succeed as a person with a PhD. If you have made peace that a tenure-track job is not in your future, then take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I wanting to keep researching/writing/publishing simply because that is the kind of work familiar to me?” Transitions are hard. Transitioning out of academia into the non-academic working world is particularly difficult for many people due to the insular and cultish culture of academe. After x number of years carrying out academic duties, it is possible that you are still caught up in academic definitions of what constitutes worthwhile work.

Doing scholarship without a formal system of support is a whole other game. Do you actually love researching? Or is it just what you are used to doing? Distinguish between feelings of obligation (“I should be doing what I’m trained for”), expectation (“everyone expects a PhD to publish at least something”), fear of being seen as a failure (“if I don’t keep up scholarly appearances, everyone will think I suck”), safety (“this is all I know what to do”), and passion (“research is what keeps me going everyday!”). I’ve worried my way through all of these feelings and, admittedly, they all contributed to my decision to become an independent scholar in some small way. At the end of the day, however, it is a passion for learning, higher education, and seriously engaging in the genre of science fiction that continues to motivate me to spend my time and limited income on my independent scholarship.

Do you see scholarship as a hobby or as a part-time (unpaid) job?

As you’re figuring out why you still feel the desire to keep up your scholarly pursuits, (1) accept that independent scholarship pays no money and then, (2) ask yourself about how much time you are willing to commit to it. If it’s something that you only want to do on some evenings and weekends when the mood moves you, then it might be more difficult for you to meet the demands of academic publishing (which is something you may or may not be interested in…we’ll get to that issue soon). Good scholarship involves a lot hours—make sure to factor in how much time it really takes to research, read, write drafts, revise, submit, etcetera. I treat my independent scholarship as a part-time job and include it in my schedule as I would any paid work task.

Who is your audience? Do you want to publish inside or outside of formal scholarly publications?

You need to decide whether you want to even bother with academic publishing. Unlike non-academic publications that don’t require the same peer-review process, academic publishing takes forever and a day. Do you want immediate gratification from your writing? If yes, then you don’t want to go the scholarly route. Get your thoughts out there by writing for magazines, blogs and the like—just be cognizant that if you don’t have peer-reviewed publications, many academics won’t consider your work as on the same level as theirs. This may or may not be a problem for you (see next question).

Does academic acknowledgement of your work matter to you?

If you want to be a noticed voice in your field, then you are going to have to publish at least some peer-reviewed work and present at conferences. If you don’t care at all about academic acknowledgement of your scholarship, then perhaps you don’t actually want to be an independent scholar. And that’s okay. Be an awesome freelance writer or blogger or [fill in position here] instead. Being an independent scholar, however, does mean that you need to be actively engaged in scholarship—and this involves being in some sort of conversation, for at least part of the time, with fully ensconced (TT and all the rest) academics.

Is your particular field of study open to contributions from independent scholars?

Some disciplines have a long history of positively valuing independent scholarship, while others regard a lack of university affiliation with great suspicion. Knowing the landscape of your field will help you determine where your work will get the best reception and if it is worth your effort to pursue independent scholarship in the first place. By all means, be a trailblazer, but keep in mind that it’s often thankless (and expensive) work. See “Who is your audience?” above.

What are you hoping to gain from independent scholarship?

And finally, what is the payoff of independent scholarship for you? Remember, it’s probably never going to be money. Stop hoping for money! (Note: I’m still hoping for money). It might, however, be a way of finding an interesting career path that you never considered, or it might mean developing new relationships that will challenge and support you in your future endeavours. For myself, I’m still not completely sure what I want from my independent scholarship in the long term (like 10 years from now), but I do know that I have no intentions in stopping anytime soon. I have my next year of scholarship already planned out. I know that I want to write a book. I want to keep identifying the hidden corners of my field and help open them up to exploration. I want to start discussions, not end them.

When you are an independent scholar, you are essentially a university of one: you need to dig deep for motivation to finish projects, meet deadlines, and justify conference expenses.


Ultimately, being an independent scholar should make you feel happy and fulfilled. If, after mulling over all these questions, you do decide to become an independent scholar, please make sure to represent and rock out the title with pride!


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