Undergraduate Courses

Introduction to Disability Studies 

The field of Disability Studies approaches disability as a social and cultural process resulting in the exclusion of some bodily variations as opposed to a body gone wrong. Disability, therefore, exists at the fraught intersection of environments, bodies, and beliefs. This course neither explores medical etiologies (the pathologization of bodies) nor does it approach disability as undesirable difference in need of repair, cure, or rehabilitation (although all of these may be part of disability experiences we investigate). Rather we will analyze disability as aesthetics (the ways that some bodies make other bodies feel when sharing space), politics (social forces that threaten to devalue some bodies on behalf of other bodies), and systemic alternatives (how do disabled lives differ and, therefore, offer glimpses into other ways of being human). All these considerations involve us in wrestling with historically variable concepts of what and who counts as normal.

Literature & the Financial Imagination: Transgender & Social Justice

Money is power – a symbol and a form of social rhetoric and influence. When readers follow the money trails in society, narratives begin to form and repeat. These narratives influence the cultural imagination with tales that reflect and speech back to public ideologies on gender, sexuality, race, disability, and class. In this writing intensive course, we will explore how literature and the financial imagination have worked together to form diverse genres of texts and embodiment that have come to be collected under the name, “transgender.” By tracing a social genealogy that spans the Middle Ages until today, we will map how critical texts in the trans literature archive reinforce and resist mechanisms of political control. We will read texts alongside some important works of criticism. 

Introduction to English Literature: A Genealogy of Gender and Genre

In this writing-intensive course, we will explore a genealogy of Gender and Genre through literature produced in and around the early British Isles, from the elegiac poetry of the Anglo-Saxons to the epic poetry of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In this survey of medieval and early modern texts, we will trace how the forms of narrative were informed by and acted on the construction of concepts of sex and sexuality. Moreover, we will explore how pre-modern debates around eunuchs and hermaphrodites, madness and monstrosity, nature and nurture, essential and artificial, eternal and mutable came to produce later notions of transgender, queerness, disability, race, and religious difference. Readings include selections from the chivalric romances of Tristan (Beroul) and Silence, The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer), and Twelfth Night (Shakespeare). We will read texts alongside some important works of literary criticism.


Transnational Courses

Disabled People and the Holocaust

In the 1980s, nearly four decades after the formal end of World War II, a group of German and American historians began connecting the genocide of 6 million Jewish (as well as Romany, Russian, and gay) people in the Holocaust to the mass killings of 300,000 disabled people in psychiatric hospitals, clinics, and institutions. The “euthanasia murders” began in October 1939 nearly a year and a half before the advent of the “final solution” in Nazi death camps. The research caused a great deal of debate amongst Holocaust scholars due to the fact that medical killings were treated separately from those prosecuted for Nazi war crimes during the Nuremburg trials. Many believe that physician supervised killings in medical institutions counted as treatment for those classified as “lives unworthy of life” (i.e. those diagnosed with physical, cognitive, and sensory disorders and, in the terms of the time, incapable of productive labor).

This past September, following decades of disability activism, the first state supported memorial to those killed in the T4 program opened in Berlin. The class will grapple with questions of the relationship of medical murders to Holocaust genocide, the struggle to publically memorialize the T4 killings in Germany, as well as consider how this history affects the lives of German disabled people today. The highlight of our reflections will be a visit to Berlin during spring break to experience the historical sites about which we have been reading: the Topography of Terror, the Jewish Museum, Otto Weidt’s Blindenwerkstatte, The Wannsee Konferenz Haus, the Brandenburg Gedenkstatte, the Psychiatriemuseum, Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and Bernburg Psychiatric Hospital. We will also be exposed to the thoughts of German students studying the T4 program, the poetry of disability author, Kenny Fries, Disability Studies scholar Petra Fuchs, German Holocaust historian Robert Parzer, and tour guide Christopher Winter. Our work will culminate with a collective creative project presented to the Dean’s Scholars in Globalization Council in mid-April.

Queer Studies: Transnational Film Studies & LGBTQ Cultures

The interdisciplinary field that has come to be called “queer” studies over the past two decades has always concerned itself with questions of representation: how are, for instance, lesbians and gay men, or transgendered people, represented in film, in novels, in other forms of media? As the field has developed, these questions of representation have increasingly been linked to other, complex questions, involving political economy, globalization, and transnationalism: in what ways have lgbt people been incorporated into contemporary nation-states? What identities and desires threaten “the nation” as it is currently (and variously) materialized in our world? How have identities such as “gay” and “lesbian” circulated globally? How have those recognizable minority identities come into contact and conflict with other ways of identifying around non-normative desires? Have those identities at times functioned imperialistically, especially as “gay tourism” has become a recognizable part of global capitalism? Conversely, what kinds of unexpected alliances have been shaped across borders as queer movements have globalized? How have these movements theorized race, gender, class, and ability; what connections have been made with other movements organized around identity?

This film studies course will consider how questions of queer representation intersect with questions of queer globalization(s). For a week in November, 2013, we will travel to Prague, Czech Republic to attend Mezipatra: Queer Film Festival along with students in Professor Kateřina Kolářová’s class. For this reason, official registration for this course will take place through study abroad. Contact the professor at for information.


Graduate Courses

Advanced Literary Theory: Globalizing Queer/Crip Theory

This advanced queer and crip theory course will pay particular attention to the centrality of queer-of-color critique and trans theory in contemporary queer theory and in critiques of neoliberal capitalism. We will examine how that centrality has allowed for, and continues to invite, textured conversations about embodiment, impairment, disability, illness, toxicity, access, mobility, migration, and securitization/militarization in a global context. The course will look critically at the spectacularization of bodies and desires at this moment in the history of capitalism, while simultaneously attending to epistemologies, or cripistemologies, that aspire to exceed or disidentify with the spectacle of contemporary capitalism (and its paradoxical tendency to domesticate, detain, or contain queer/crip energies or cultural production). Although open to all students who have a moderate facility with critical theory generally, the course will nonetheless attempt to build on students’ prior engagements with crip and queer theory. Readings may be drawn from the work of Roderick Ferguson, Darieck Scott, Nirmala Erevelles, Mia Mingus, Dan Goodley, Toby Beauchamp, Fiona Kumari Campbell, David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, Kateřina Kolářová, Mel Chen, Jasbir Puar, Kevin Floyd, Richard Parker, Licia Fiol-Matta, Lisa Duggan, and others.

Crip/Queer Theory (Ethnicity and Identity)

Crip/Queer Theory charts out key intersections between Disability, Queer, and Critical Race Studies. Our goal will be to mine the spaces between historically pathologized sexuality, ability, and racialized statuses. In particular we will focus on questions of "agential materialism" where one cannot only find experiences of oppression, but also alternative ethical maps for living. How are contemporary theorists beginning to conceive of bodies beyond the limits of social constructivism's passive, culturally inscribed surfaces? What can the artful navigation of inhospitable social terrains tell us about what crip/queer and racialized lives might offer as viable counter-cultural options outside of homogenizing norms? Key works covered may include: Alison Kafer's Feminist Queer Crip, Tobin Siebers's Disability Aesthetics, Asma Abbas's Liberalism and Human Suffering, Alexander G. Weheliye's Habeas Viscus, Elizabeth Grosz's The Nick of Time, Jacques Ranciere's Mute Speech, David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder's The Biopolitics of Disability, Jose Munoz's Cruising Utopia, Jack Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure, and Robert McRuer & Anna Mollow's Sex and Disability.


Aesthetics has been variously understood as a “science of sensuous perception,” a “criticism of taste” and a mode of critical reflection on relations among art, nature, and culture. Neuroaesthetics will explore the history of the term aesthetics, and influential accounts, of aesthetic experience. The course will engage current debates regarding the function and effect, primarily, of literary aesthetics. Readings will review research from four perspectives. Traditional western accounts reflect essays from Plato to the Victorians. Marxist and cultural accounts of the ideological use of aesthetics will review readings from Eagleton, Bourdieu, and Jameson. Current claims from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology will examine the work of Gabriella Starr, Nancy Easterlin and Eric Kandel and will be given particular emphasis. Non-western discussions of aesthetics reviews work by Bhabha, Adunis, Li, and Narasimhaiah. In addition to the readings of theory, the course will give attention to the close readings of 2 poems, 2 plays and 2 short stories. Course requirements involve one presentation, one short paper of 6 pages and one long research paper of 18 pages.

Selected Topics in Criticism: Disability Studies

“New Materialisms: Disability, Cross-species Identifications, and Environment.”

This course will examine the materialist turn in theory and literature. New materialisms are critical to re-thinking subject-object relations in a more dynamic way; particularly since materialist processes and the agency of matter operate in terms of a return of the repressed. Nature bites back, and those who have experienced the bite of the denaturalization of their bodies have turned increasingly feral toward normative lessons of a mutant deviancy. Disability Studies, for instance, has slowly turned its attention to questions of the alternative ways of living with each other in the world. In part, this has signaled new interdependencies of supported living; but it also means moving our attentions elsewhere including cross-species identifications, the inorganic and inert, as well as the radical porosity of bodies within environments teeming with pathogenic agents. As Mel Y. Chen a philosopher with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity states, “I am perpetually itinerant, even when I have a goal; it means I will never walk in a straight line . . . Communion is possible in spite of, or even because of, this fact” (2450-2453).

Some theoretical works we will discuss in excerpts or as entire works include: Diane Coole and Samantha Frost’s New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Donna Haraway's Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, Stacy Alaimo's Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self, Mel Chen's Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow’s Sex and Disability, Martha Nussbaum's Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, and Species Membership, Elizabeth Povinelli's Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism, Alison Kafer’s Feminist Queer Crip, and Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation.

We will also read a couple novels serving as centerpiece of the course’s contemplations such as: Richard Powers's The Echo-Maker, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Finally, we will view a series of independent international disability film shorts including: "Sang Froid (Cold Blood) {FR}, “La Joi (The Joy)” [FR], “The Playmate” [FR], “goodnight, liberation” [USA], "Outcasts" [AU], "Berocca" [UK], “Yolk” [AU], “What it is like to be my mother” [PO], “I’m in away from here” [IR], “Body and Soul: Diana and Kathy” [IR], "Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer” [USA], “Invitation to a Dance,” [AF], among others. The crip/queer symposium, “Composing Disability,” held at GWU on April 2-3 will provide an important event in which we all participate.

Queer Theory, Now and Then
McRuer and Dugan

This seminar examines the ways in which queer theory appears, now and then. From sixteenth century narratives of seduction and eroticism to postmodern, hyper-mediated sex play, we will engage in a transtemporal and interdisciplinary conversation about both shared and contested assumptions about queerness. Weaving seemingly disparate strands of this field through and around each other, we seek to pose the following questions: how queer is historicism? Is there a way to do queer historicism, or are the terms mutually exclusive (as some in the field might claim)? If queer theory “now” is arguably obsessed with global technologies that locate bodies within systems of commodification, consumption, and resistance, what about queer theory “then”? When we approach these questions from a transtemporal framework, what happens to practices and desires we think we recognize as “alternative” or “normative”? How is the alternative constitutive of the norm, now and then? What bodily practices and desires remain resistant to categorizations, whether temporal or otherwise? Readings may include work by Lynne Huffer, Kevin Floyd, Madhavi Menon, James Bromley, Will Stockton, Valerie Traub, Margot Weiss, Darieck Scott, Jasbir Puar, José Esteban Muñoz, Elizabeth Povinelli, and others.


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