DIS ST 360 A Su 24: Redesigning Humanity: Disability In Speculative Fiction

DIS ST 360 Redesigning Humanity: Disability in Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Joanne Woiak

Contact: jwoiak@uw.edu

Summer Full Term (June 17 - Aug 16, 2024)

Distance Learning

Class meets on Zoom Mondays & Wednesdays 10:30am-12:10pm

Join URL: https://washington.zoom.us/j/95476182585

This course may be completed asynchronously

Book cover Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler.Book cover An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon


Getting started:

Hello and welcome to my disability studies class on speculative fiction! This is a fully remote course, and it’s designed to provide flexibility in how you access the content and how you show your engagement with the material. Please call me Joanne. I’m looking forward to teaching and learning with you this quarter.

You can start the course by clicking on the Weeks 1-2 Module for the readings, links, and assignments. If you want to start reading ahead, our key texts this quarter will be the novels Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon.

Distance Learning course delivery plan:

      • Mondays & Wednesdays: Synchronous class meetings on Zoom, 10:23am-12:10pm. These will be recorded for asynchronous access.
      • Students may complete this class synchronously, asynchronously, or any combination!
      • There are no exams, quizzes, or essays. Due dates for assignments are generally flexible, though it’s worth remembering that Summer final grades are due by August 20th.
      • If you have any other access needs that you think may not be met by the current set-up of the course, I encourage you to contact me so that we can make any needed modifications.
      • I created a survey in which you're asked to share with me your feedback about the course delivery plan, and how you anticipate you will participate in the course. You can fill it out anonymously or give your name. You may also provide any information about your circumstances or access needs that you're comfortable telling me, including any trigger or content warnings that would support your access to the materials. Student survey link. 


Course description:

Octavia Butler's classic dystopian novel Parable of the Sower was set in the year 2024. How did Butler and other disabled, BIPOC, and multiply marginalized artist-activists imagine where we would be in the near future? Their interventions in the speculative fiction (SF) genre aim to “write ourselves into the future,” as visionary author Butler put it. This course will analyze SF texts - centering stories and novels by Black disabled authors, as well as several SF films - that use speculative settings and nonrealist conventions to comment on contemporary social, political, and ethical concerns. From Frankenstein to Brave New World to Gattaca and beyond, SF has imagined the artificial creation, manipulation, and enhancement of human life. We’ll critique how SF has deployed potentially problematic tropes and metaphors that reflect mainstream attitudes about disability, race, gender, and sexuality. By focusing on the connection between speculative fiction, the field of disability studies (DS), and the work of BIPOC, queer, and trans Disability Justice (DJ) activists and scholars, the course will consider representations of disability and neurodivergence, including intersections of racism and ableism. As scholar Sami Schalk contends, disability is central to speculative fiction and SF "allows us to imagine otherwise.... for marginalized people, this can mean imagining a future or alternative space away from oppression or in which relations between currently empowered and disempowered groups are altered or improved" (Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women's Speculative Fiction). Authors and readers create new meanings of accessibility, identity, community, family, justice, normal, and human. 

This course has no prerequisites. It fulfills DIV requirements, and fulfills Subfield C Diversity, Representation, Identity of the DS Major and Minor.

Students will participate in synchronous or asynchronous discussions, facilitate discussion of the texts on two days, and write short response papers about the readings and films.  Please contact instructor Joanne Woiak for further information (jwoiak@uw.edu). The course is designed to provide flexibility in how you access the content and how you show your engagement with the material in online learning format.



Canvas Navigation:


We will read two novels, several short stories, and several films. You can find the books that we'll read in UW Libraries as digital copies. Copies of the books will also be available for purchase at the University Bookstore on the Ave.  ANY edition of these books is fine to use. Additional required readings will all be on Canvas.


Accommodations, access, and resources:

The instructor is trying to create an inclusive learning environment. Your experiences in the class are important to me. If you anticipate or encounter barriers participating or demonstrating your learning because of any aspect of how the course is taught, I encourage you to contact me as soon as possible so that we can discuss options. This applies to everyone, whether or not you have formal accommodations.

We can work in conjunction with Disability Resources for Students: Disability Resources for Students (UW Seattle) Email: uwdrs@uw.edu Phone: 206-543-8924. If you have already established accommodations with DRS, please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.

Mental Health Services to Students - main UW website with many on-campus and off-campus resources: https://wellbeing.uw.edu/topic/mental-health


Here are some UW writing resources that are available to students in this class:


UW Religious Accommodations Policy:

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request.


Learning objectives:

  • Acquire analytic tools for evaluating representations and metaphors of disability in cultural texts, emphasizing intersectional approaches (ableism, racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression).
  • Identify the social functions and literary conventions of the speculative fiction genre.
  • Study cultural contributions and activism of disabled people.
  • Gain a theoretical background in the field of disability studies.
  • Apply critical analysis to the interactions between science, society, and popular culture.
  • Develop skills in critical thinking about diversity and intersectionality.
  • Sharpen skills in textual analysis and writing.


Course Summary:

Date Details Due