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Disability & Cinema

Acknowldegements - Declaration - Summary


I wish to acknowledge an immeasurable debt of gratitude to a few individuals for their support and encouragement during the writing of this thesis.  Firstly, for his scholastic guidance, bibliographical wisdom and supervision, Professor Richard Dyer.  Secondly, to my partner, Marie Claire Darke, for her belief that I could do it (and for typing out the bibliography); and to my father, Sydney John Darke, and my son, Walker Augustus Sydney P Darke, for putting the exercise into its correct perspective. I must also mention, in conclusion, my appreciation of B. Ward Ekrad for his patience and endurance and Jackie Vickers, Martin Cain, Graham Hewitt and Paddy Long for sharing their knowledge.    

Along with the individuals there are a few organisations that I wish to acknowledge for their financial support, in the main, and their moral support, along the way.  The financial contributions made by the listed organisations have been considerable and, even though I list them in the order of the size of their financial support, my gratitude is divided amongst them equally.  The organisations are: St. Monica CharityThe Association For Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (ASBAH); The Snowden Awards for Disabled PeopleThe Ian Karten Charitable TrustThe Onneley TrustThe Rivendell Trust; and The Southdown Trust.  

The final result, I take full responsibility for, and in no way should it be inferred that any of the opinions stated herein belong to any of the individuals or organisations above whom I have acknowledged for their support.  Any errors are mine, and mine alone.


I declare that this thesis is, in total, an original piece of work of which none has appeared in print before.  I have published different material derivative of this thesis in various publications (for more details see the bibliography), but it is work that is journalistic in form.   The only academic article I have written that comes out of my work on this thesis is my article 'The Elephant Man: An Analysis From A Disabled Perspective', published in Disability and Society (Vol. 9, No. 3, 1994).  It is an article from which I have quoted but which is completely different from the thesis.  The papers, presentations, and journalistic pieces that I have presented have all been on images of disability on film commissioned on the basis of my carrying out this research.  

In this thesis I have used many words that have for disabled people a suspect nature or lineage without elaboration of their ambiguity, though their context and use in the thesis will imply that I am aware and deeply suspicious of such ambiguity in their use.  In order not to waste too much time in repeating suspicions, or explanations for finding them ambiguous, I do not continually put them in distancing 'quotation' marks; for example, words and labels such as 'normal' or 'abnormal', 'Otherness', 'natural' and 'unnatural' and 'spastic' or 'cripple', 'positive' or 'negative', ‘good’ or ‘bad’, et cetera.


In writing this thesis I have tried to get beneath the clichés of disability imagery to reveal the social constructions, through cinematic processes, of images of physical impairment as disability.  The thesis must be seen in the context of other writers who have done similar work on other marginalised groups within our society that are regularly portrayed on the cinema screen: gays, blacks, women and, to a lesser extent, the working-class.  The construction of school of writers, using representation theory, who have over the last two decades revealed that which had previously been taken for granted - the ideological and cultural influences on and of imagery that have an impact upon the lived lives of those represented - have been my guiding influence.  The Social Model of disability theory has been used as my primary methodological framework and analytical approach.

In the introduction I provide an outline of Disability Theory – i.e., the Medical Model and the Social Model of disability - and define the theoretical framework within which the thesis has been written to make the thesis comprehensible in the wider context of the social construction of 'disability'.  In the literature review of disability imagery writing (Chapter One), I include writing that is journalistic rather than academic to redress the general scarcity of writing on disabling images.

In this thesis, the cinematic techniques that construct impairment as disability, i.e., pathologise impairment as Other(ness), are identified.  I explore three specific areas of cinema and culture in Chapters Two, Three and Four of the thesis: the use, or non-use, of stereotypes; the representation of the family in relation to disability, and finally, the use of the abnormal body to pathologise impairment.

If you wish to quote from this Ph.D please ensure that you give full and proper credit to the author Dr paul Darke / Please also ensure that you notify Dr Darke that you are citing his work in your work (articles / essays / dissertations / books or the like). You do not need permission but we would welcome the courtesy of your notifying us/Dr Darke of your use of his thesis. Dr Paul Darke received his Ph.D. for this thesis at the university of Warwick, England, in 1999.