(Critical) Blindness Studies

  • Thompson, H. (Organiser)
  • Vanessa Warne (Organiser)
  • Marion Chottin (Organiser)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


The international conference "(Critical) Blindness Studies: Current Debates and Future Directions" exists at the crossroads of Anglo-American Disability Studies and Francophone studies of disability.

Since the 2000s, scholars from both of these fields of study have been meeting, dialoguing and collaborating. In 2001, the historians Zina Weygand (France) and Catherine J. Kudlick (US) published what is probably the first text (1825) written by a blind woman about blindness (Reflections. The life and writings of a young blind woman in Post-revolutionary France. Thérèse-Adèle Husson, New York UP, 2001). In 2013, in Paris, the international conference "Histoire de la cécité et des aveugles. Institutions, representations, archives," led by Zina Weygand, established a network of international researchers working on blindness history. In 2015, Hannah Thompson (UK) and Vanessa Warne (Canada) organised a second international symposium on blindness, "Blind Creations," at the University of London, Royal Holloway.

Following these influential gatherings, which allowed participants to historicise the representations of blindness and to explore its creative power, the present conference seeks to acknowledge the existence of a singular field of research that has gradually emerged within disability studies in countries around the world and in many languages, a field we propose to call "Blindness Studies".

Our approach to defining Blindness Studies will include retrospective analyses. Why is it legitimate to assert the unity of this field, when blindness is also studied by other disciplines, such as ophthalmology and neurology? Does distancing one’s methods from the "medical model" of disability serve as a common and meaningful denominator? Could an approach that prioritizes experiences of blindness paradoxically allow the separation between, on the one hand, the humanities and social sciences and, on the other, the so-called 'hard' sciences to be overcome, by authorising the inclusion of, for example, engineering sciences, within Blindness Studies? Furthermore, do these works conceive the persistent exclusion from social influence and culture of blind and visually impaired people today in the same ways? In particular, is modernity seen as emancipating or, as has been argued in relation to the development of special schools, as a cause of subjugation? It is all the more crucial to ask this question as we celebrate, in 2022, the bicentenary of the death of Valentin Haüy (1745-1822), widely described as the "first teacher of the blind". What is more, can very different approaches to the study of blindness be productively situated under the umbrella of Critical Disability Studies? Our approach will also be attentive to emerging issues. What are the most recent directions taken by Blindness Studies, particularly in relation to Gender, Post-colonial and Environmental Studies? What effect is the Covid 19 pandemic having on blind and visually impaired people and also on blindness research? What are the terra incognita of Blindness Studies?

With these questions guiding our shared work, our conference will feature two plenary lectures (Corinne Doria and Georgina Kleege) and a series of roundtable discussions. Speakers (researchers at universities, associated with a research centre or independent, as well as doctoral students) will be invited to present the main lines of their research and to propose, based on their past work as well as their current and future projects, answers to three questions, which we will explore throughout the conference’s sessions:

1) Where do you situate your work within Disability Studies?

2) How would you characterise or define Blindness Studies?

3) What definition(s) of blindness does your research and/or lived experience lead you to adopt?

The audience of the conference will be invited to submit their own questions to the speakers before the conference. It is our goal to end the conference with the collaborative authorship of a "Blindness Studies Manifesto”, a statement generated by this gathering to support and inspire future work in this field.
Period30 Jun 20225 Jul 2022
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational