Chatter that Matters: A New Path to Progressive Understandings of Disability Through the Online Discussion of Popular Novels
Rankin, Joanna Caitlin
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Looking to the novel as a source of information for real lives, this paper investigates the role of the popular culture book club and the informal discussion of novels in the recognition of and response to disability in contemporary society. Reviewing the books chosen for the Oprah’s Book Club as well as readers’ online posts about characters with disabilities are considered in this research. The online, middlebrow discussion of novels is assessed as a productive and developing public sphere related to the discussion of disability. Within this context readers demonstrate their interest in and ability to challenge ideas about disability. This research identifies three key areas which encourage the development of progressive dialogue around this topic including: (a) providing a challenge to traditional literary authority allowing for new and innovative ideas, (b) the recognition of the significant role of emotion and the emotional connection of readers’ with fictional characters, including characters with disabilities, and finally (c) the frequently overlooked existence of discussion surrounding disability within this sphere and the acknowledgment of the social role of disability by readers.