Disability (3/15/2026; 1/1/2025)


Robert McRuer writes in Crip Theory that at some point in every person’s life, if they live long enough, they will be disabled. Yet, while disablement is an extremely common experience and ableism a hegemonic form of marginalization, disability is largely understudied across fields (Minich 2016, Ellcessor 2018). Fan studies has neglected to consistently explore disability or acknowledge the presence of ableism, resulting in a dearth of peer-reviewed publications on this intersection and a silencing of crip critique from disabled fans and scholars.

Disability studies formed in critique of the medical model of disability, which views disability as a problem to be solved. Most of the field’s critical work historically centers the social model, which frames disability not as a medical condition but as a social process discursively situated in histories of power (Siebers 2008). Contemporary disability scholarship more frequently works from Kafer’s (2013) political-relational model of disability, which clarifies that disability and impairment are both socially constructed, while also making explicit room for material realities of disablement, such as chronic pain and fatigue, and the inextricable mental-physical experiences of the bodymind, such as aging and neurodivergence (Price 2015). Approaching disability across the humanities has produced diverse modes of analyzing disability as identity (Shakespeare 1997), community (Clare 2017), and mediated representation (Garland-Thomson 1997), leading to crip theories exploring disability intersectionality to critique the ideology of ability (Samuels 2003, McRuer 2006). Disability studies especially draws from queer theory, building on the concept of compulsory heterosexuality—the hegemonic framework which renders heterosexuality the only thinkable option—to propose compulsory able-bodiedness, the requirement that disabled bodies perform as able and desire ability, highlighting homophobia and ableism as intersecting oppressions (McRuer 2006, Clare 2017). Further intersectional crip critique comes from Puar (2017) and other postcolonial and antiracist scholars (Schalk 2018), who describe how the violence of ableism is inequitably applied across multiply marginalized populations, illustrating how disability is not only missing from many intersectional theories of identity, but intersectionality has been lacking in disability theories.

We, as the editors of this issue, understand disability within the framework of the intersectional political-relational model, and believe that fan studies is well situated to contribute to discussions of disability. For example, Sterne and Mills (2017) propose “dismediation” as one mode of aligning media and disability studies’ often divergent goals through recognizing disability and media as co-constitutive—media concepts are awash with metaphors of disablement, and disabilities are so often figured against the cultural narratives and technological specifications of media. Further, fan studies’ continued claims to fandom’s transformative capacity and attention to “bodies in space” (Coppa 2014) desperately require the incorporation of disability critique. Fan studies has not entirely neglected disability as a marginalized identity, as fan scholars have begun to explore the accessibility of online fandom (Ellcessor 2018), examine the disability implications of fanfic as care labor (Leetal 2019), and advocate for thinking with disability to become a “default setting” in our field (Howell 2019). However, the disciplinary lacuna between these two fields has made it difficult for these conversations to develop a strong institutional foothold. By centering disability in fan studies’ discussions, this special issue can foster an encouraging environment for emerging dialogue between the fields to develop, as well as a supportive space for marginalized scholars and fans who do not see themselves represented in media, fan communities, or scholarship spaces.

We encourage submissions from scholars writing about disability from a fan studies perspective, as well as disability scholars writing about topics intersecting with fans/audiences/reception practices. We especially welcome intersectional perspectives that engage with disability as it operates in relation to intersecting identities such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality (Bell 2016). Pieces for this special issue may explore questions of disability and fandom from an embodied, textual, or discursive perspective, for instance: What are the experiences of various disabled fans in fandom? What discourses of disability are circulated, perpetuated, and/or critiqued in fan spaces? How do fans negotiate portrayals of disability in their subjects of fandom, from movies to podcasts to celebrities? How has disability accessibility figured in various fandoms and fan spaces? How do rhetorics of disability, illness, and health affect fan communities and discussions? How does disability identity intersect with fan identity, and/or other marginalized identities?

Submissions may involve but are not limited to:

Fans/fandom and…

  • Dis/ability
  • Impairment
  • Neurodivergence
  • Chronic pain and/or illness
  • Mental illness and/or Mad perspectives
  • Bodyminds
  • Health
  • Bodily norms/Normativity
  • Discourses/narratives/representations of any of the above topics
  • Accessibility, in digital spaces (Tumblr, Dreamwidth, etc.) and/or physical spaces (conventions, industry, etc.)
  • Fan mediums with particular relationships to disability, such as cosplay or podfic

Submission Guidelines

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC, http://journal.transformativeworks.org/) is an international peer-reviewed online Diamond Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works, copyrighted under a Creative Commons License. TWC aims to provide a publishing outlet that welcomes fan-related topics and promotes dialogue between academic and fan communities. TWC accommodates academic articles of varying scope as well as other forms, such as multimedia, that embrace the technical possibilities of the internet and test the limits of the genre of academic writing.

Submit final papers directly to Transformative Works and Cultures by January 1, 2025.

Articles: Peer review. Maximum 8,000 words.

Symposium: Editorial review. Maximum 4,000 words.

Please visit TWC's website (https://journal.transformativeworks.org/) for complete submission guidelines, or email the TWC Editor (editor@transformativeworks.org). 

Contact—Contact guest editors Olivia Johnston Riley and Lauren Rouse with any questions before or after the due date DisabilityFandomTWC@gmail.com


Works Cited

Bell, Chris. 2016. “Is Disability Studies Actually White Disability Studies?” In The Disability Studies Reader edited by Lennard Davis, 406-425. New York: Routledge.

Clare, Eli. 2017. Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure. Durham: Duke University Press.

Coppa, Francesca. 2014. “Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fan Fiction as Theatrical Performance.” In The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, 218-238. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Davis, Lennard. 1995. “Introduction: Disability, the Missing Term in the Race, Class, Gender Triad.” In Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body, 23-49. London and New York: Verso.

Ellcessor, Elizabeth. 2018. “Accessing Fan Cultures: Disability, Digital Media, and Dreamwidth” in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, edited by Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott, 202-211. New York: Routledge.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

Howell, Katherine Anderson. 2019. “Human Activity: Fan Studies, Fandom, Disability and the Classroom.” Journal of Fandom Studies 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1386/jfs.7.1.3_2 

Kafer, Alison. 2013. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Leetal, Dean Barnes. 2019. “Those Crazy Fangirls on the Internet: Activism of Care, Disability and Fan Fiction.” Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 8 (2). https://cjds.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/cjds/article/view/491  

McRuer, Robert. 2006. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York and London: New York University Press.

Minich, Julie Avril. 2016. “Enabling Whom? Critical Disability Studies Now.” Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association, 5.1. https://csalateral.org/issue/5-1/forum-alt-humanities-critical-disability-studies-now-minich/.

Price, Margaret. 2015. "The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain." Hypatia 30, no. 1: 268-284.

Puar, Jasbir. 2017. The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Samuels, Ellen. 2003. “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming Out Discourse.” GLQ 9, no.1-2: 233-255.

Schalk, Sami. 2018. Bodyminds Reimagined. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Shakespeare, Tom. 1996. “Disability, Identity and Difference.” Exploring the Divide, edited by Colin Barnes and Geof Mercer:  94-113.

Siebers, Tobin. 2008. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Sterne, Jonathan and Mara Mills. 2017. “Dismediation: Three Proposals, Six Tactics.” In Disability Media Studies, edited by Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kirkpatrick. New York: NYU Press.