Lecturer in English Literature, University of Leeds

Summary: Postcolonial literature (especially indigenous literatures and cultures); medical humanities; disability studies; contemporary British literature; health, illness and medicine; postcolonial health.

Dr Clare Barker BA (Durham); MA (Leeds); PhD (Leeds); PGCLTHE (Birmingham).

My main research and teaching interests are in the areas of contemporary and postcolonial literature, medical humanities, and disability studies. I was appointed at Leeds in 2012 as a Lecturer in English Literature with a specialism in Medical Humanities, and I am closely involved in the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. Previously, I had a lectureship at the University of Birmingham, and I first developed my interest in postcolonial literatures and cultures when studying as a postgraduate here in the School of English at Leeds.
Research Interests

My research to date has focused on postcolonial literatures and cultures, and it engages centrally with disability studies and medical humanities. I’m interested in the ways in which disability, health and illness are constructed in local and global contexts, and how fiction can transform our understanding of embodied difference, medical encounters, and the politics of health. My book, Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children, Metaphor and Materiality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), analyses the representation of disabled children in postcolonial writing from South Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. It examines the metaphorical functions of disability within postcolonial writing, where disabled children are often understood to symbolise postcolonial nation-states – ‘damaged’ and fragile, yet embodying the potential for radical difference. Its central focus, though, is on the material representation of disabled children as agents and citizens, engaging with fiction writers’ perspectives on the politics of healthcare, citizenship, normalcy and discrimination in postcolonial societies. I have recently co-edited two special issues of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies. The first (co-edited with Stuart Murray) was entitled ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’ (2010) and was one of the first publications to consider the points of convergence between disability and postcolonial studies. The second (co-edited with Siobhan Senier) is on ‘Disability and Native American/Indigenous Studies’ and will be published later in 2013. I am committed to developing interdisciplinary research between the fields of postcolonial and disability studies, and am an editorial advisory board member for the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies.

At the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities, I am contributing to the development of a major research strand on Colonial and Postcolonial Health. This was launched by a research salon in March 2012, in conjunction with the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, and will include further events, guest speakers and research projects.

I am a comparative postcolonialist and have published on literature from diverse regions, including New Zealand, the Indian subcontinent, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. One of my most enduring interests within postcolonial studies, though, is in indigenous literatures and film. Alongside indigenous health and medicine, I am particularly interested in questions of sovereignty, indigenous politics and activism, and indigenous perspectives on bioethical issues.

Current research projects

My current research project, tentatively entitled Postcolonial Health: Literature, Medicine, Activism, will explore the representation of health crises, global biomedical debates, and health-related community activism in postcolonial literatures and film. I am interested in the way fictional texts engage with real-world medical emergencies and the forms of grassroots activism that emerge in response to them, and in the way that literary and film texts may themselves constitute activist responses to such emergencies. The project will interrogate the culturally mediated notion of ‘health’ and will cover issues such as: post-disaster medicine and healthcare; the role of charities, aid campaigns, and bodies such as the World Health Organization; indigenous responses to developments in genetic biotechnology; and cultural safety in healthcare. I have so far begun work on two strands of this project. The first considers how indigenous literature depicts indigenous activism against the Human Genome Diversity Project, which raised considerable ethical questions regarding the ownership of human genes and bodies and the relationship between genetic research and the wellbeing of those being researched. The second looks at fictional representations the 1984 Bhopal disaster, which killed many thousands of people and, due to a toxic groundwater supply, continues to cause congenital disabilities, reproductive disorders, and to affect the physical and mental health of local residents in multiple ways. Here, I am interested in the way that fictional writing intersects with other forms of disaster representation such as journalism, charity and aid campaigns, particularly with regard to the representation of sick and disabled people.

In addition to this, I am a Co-Investigator on a three-year interdisciplinary, collaborative project entitled 'Representing Communities: Developing the Creative Power of People to Improve Health and Wellbeing', funded by an AHRC-ESRC Large Grant (2013-16). The aim of this project is to establish how community representations produced through creative arts practices (e.g. story-telling, performance, visual art) can be used as forms of evidence to inform health-related policy and service development. It will focus on five different case study communities in England, Wales and Scotland, and my particular role in the project is to analyse representations of community health and wellbeing in literary texts. As part of this, I will be conducting a study on ethnicity and health in contemporary British Asian fiction, looking at how writers explore the health experiences of ethnic minority communities (including, for instance, cultural approaches to health, illness and wellbeing; encounters between patients and medical professionals; cultural safety in healthcare practice; everyday experiences of health and illness; and the relationship between wellbeing and access to/expression of cultural and religious practices, traditions, and art forms).


  • –present
    Lecturer in English Literature, University of Leeds