Cinemas of Isolation: Disability and Film Theory

A disability studies approach to media allows us to think critically about not only the stakes of representation, but also the ways that cinema draws out the contours of the viewing subject, incites complex processes of identification and disidentification, and frames the body as a site of contact and signification. As a phenomenon that is at once material and discursive—that is, insistently embodied and personal but also social, embedded in language and environment—disability troubles the mind/body split in generative and complex ways. Moreover, disability theory allows us to return to some of film theory’s earliest interventions—notions of lack, fetishism, the gaze, the apparatus—with a new set of questions and ethical concerns.

Recent months have already seen a proliferation of demand (in academia, journalism, art worlds) for new “takes” on COVID-19, special issues of journals that analyze the global pandemic from social sciences and communications perspectives, work by artist-practitioners chronicling this profoundly singular moment. A great deal of this work has focused on contagion and risk, often with a bias towards the concerns of the (currently) abled. This special issue of/Spectator///takes a step away from this discourse, moving instead towards reflections on the phenomenology of illness and disability in global cinemas, and the ways that certain strands of film theory might be reanimated by a serious consideration of disability and disability studies.

In his landmark study of cinema and disability, Martin Norden famously argued that/isolation/was one of the defining characteristics of the experience of disability in the twentieth century, and that disability cinemas, however varied they might seem, returned time and again to the space of solitude, of amputation from the social world.

Like all global crises, COVID-19 has already produced its own unique rhetorics, a key one of which is of collective isolation—the uncanny sensation produced by the fact that so many people have spent unprecedented amounts of time in their homes, that spending a maximum amount of time alone is necessary for the public good, and that that isolation is, itself, a luxury.

While a great deal of media discourse surrounding the global pandemic has focused on COVID-19’s high mortality rate (which disproportionately affects people who are already living with disabilities), the number of people worldwide who are likely to become disabled as a result of the disease is even higher, and it is considered likely that many of these conditions will be lifelong. As disability becomes increasingly impossible to ignore worldwide, media scholars may offer new interventions that attend to disability’s representational and semiotic power, as well as its material significance in the history of cinema and cinematic thought. We encourage transnational and cross-disciplinary approaches to thinking about disability in and as media, language, and form. We also are (very!) interested in book reviews, film/TV reviews, photo essays, video essays, fiction and other hybrid forms.

Deadline for manuscript/project submission: November 27, 2022. We are looking for completed manuscripts/projects; feel free to contact us before the deadline with questions about a potential pitch/project. *

Spectatoris a biannual publication by the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts, Division of Cinema & Media Studies. Submissions in the following areas are encouraged:

  • Social media and the chronicling of disability; illness and virtual
    communities of support
  • Architectures of illness and disability: quarantines, waiting rooms,
    medical offices, screens R
  • Revisiting New Queer Cinema and HIV/AIDS media in the time of COVID-19
  • Disability as recurring theme in the work of a specific director
  • Life-writing and self-authored representations of disability
  • Disability and/as performance: queerness, subjectivity, and ability
  • Police brutality, disability, and mediatic “liveness”
  • Non-theatrical disability media (instructional films for physicians,
    films about institutions and hospitals, public service announcements)
  • The visual technologies of the clinic (MRIs, ultrasounds, X-rays)
  • Psychosomatic illness, “faking it,” documentary
  • The hospital and theories of hospitality**
  • Disability as metaphor in film theory: rethinking the apparatus, the
    close-up, the gaze in light of disability theory
  • Affect, sensation, and abject medias of disease and disability
    (filmed surgeries, filmed autopsies, Dr. Pimple Popper, etc.)
  • Intersectional approaches to disability, race, and gender in
    contemporary media
  • Melodrama, soap opera, and disability as narrative device
  • Prosthesis, mobility, and visual technologies of the 21^st century
  • Chronic conditions, death, and comedy
  • Accessibility, space, and spectatorship: the movie theater,
    closed-captioning, and assistive technologies
  • Disability, monstrosity, trauma, and pathos in genre cinema

Manuscripts to be considered for publication should be sent to: Emma Ben Ayoun USC School of Cinematic Arts, 900 W. 34^th Street, Los Angeles, CA
90007 (917) 714-7309 (benayoun /at/

Submissions should be e-mailed directly to the issue editor. Manuscripts should include the title of the contribution, name of author(s), postal address, e-mail address, and a phone number for the author who will work with the editor on revisions. Contributions should not exceed 5,000 words. Please include a brief abstract andauthor bio for publicity purposes. Articles submitted should not be under consideration by any other journals. Book Reviews may vary in length from 300 to 1,000 words. Please include title of book, retail price and ISBN at the beginning of the review. Additional section contributions can include interviews, works about new archival or research facilities as well as newly developed methods related to the field. Authors should send copies of their work via e-mail as electronic attachments. Files should be formatted in the latest version of Microsoft Word and endnotes should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style. Upon acceptance, a detailed format/style sheet will be forwarded to all contributors as to the requirements for the submission of images and text. No payment from the authors will be required at any point in the process.