Special Themes in Folklore: Folklore and Disability

English 4700/7700
Folklore and Disability
Section 1
Anand Prahlad
2:00-3:15; also Monday 6-8:30

Across time and cultures, attitudes toward and the treatment of people with disabilities have been firmly rooted in folklore, and it is difficult to understand either social policies, personal challenges, or the treatment of the disabled without some understanding of folk thought. This course will begin with an introduction to basic terms, concepts, and issues in Disability Studies, as well as the political history of disability activism, public policies, and laws. We will be concerned throughout the semester with the impact of folklore on people with disabilities. For example, a wide range of physical, neurological, and cognitive disabilities have been represented in characters and narrative motifs found in legends, myths, folktales, and proverbs. Through rituals based on folk beliefs, religious prescriptions, and superstitions, societies have historically reinforced the margins between the disabled and non-disabled. At the same time, folklore also exists within communities of people with disabilities, often serving as a buffer and source of empowerment. This class will explore folklore from, and about, people with disabilities in cultures around the globe, examining the relationships between representations in folklore and attitudes and social practices. While privileging the life experiences and perspectives of disabled individuals and cultures, we will focus on folk attitudes that influence disability-related issues. For example, to what extent do differing cultures feel that disabilities should be “cured?” How do different cultures define disability? How do factors such as gender, race, and economics intersect with disability? Required texts include Ronald J. Berger, Introducing Disability Studies, Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones, Folkloristics, and articles on Canvas. Films will include The House is Black, Maze, Freaks, Children of a Lesser God, The Village, Blindsight, and Ocean Heaven. Assignments will include a journal, and three exams.