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Alex Henry

LAHRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Areas of expertise
Contemporary Literature; Critical Disability Studies; Crip-Queer Theory; Epistemologies of Illness
Clothworkers South Building, University of Leeds Campus
Arts, Humanities and Cultures
Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute / Leeds Centre For African Studies

I submitted my PhD thesis titled ‘Cripping “Unexplained” Chronic Illness in 21st Century British Women’s Writing’ in December 2022. I joined the School of English at the University of Leeds as a PhD student in October 2018 and my work was funded by the Douglas Jefferson Doctoral Scholarship (2018-2021). I also have an MA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Dundee, and an M.Litt in Modernities from the University of Glasgow.

My doctoral thesis focusses on chronic illnesses which are complex, poorly-understood, undiagnosed or otherwise framed as medically ‘unexplained’. I argue that ‘medically unexplained symptoms’ (MUS), as a medical and psychiatric category, is an epistemological framing of embodied experiences where the contestation of knowledge subjects chronically ill bodyminds to processes of epistemic ignorance, domination and injustice. My work takes up a crip reframing of chronicity and cripistemological ways of knowing, using ‘crip time’ (Kafer, 2013) as a point of theoretical departure to develop an account of chronicity as an embodied experience. I present readings of some well-known and widely read contemporary authors including Ali Smith, Hilary Mantel and Helen Oyeyemi to show how illness, as a central component in literary writing and everyday life, has been neglected and ignored both in the academy and by a wider culture of ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’ (McRuer, 2006). I particularly focus on gendered representations of illness and associated medical histories like hysteria to track how contemporary experiences of ‘undiagnosis’ are conceptualised and expressed in fiction beyond the normative ideological and narrative privileging of coherence, chronology and articulacy.

As a LAHRI Postdoctoral Fellow, I am working on publishing material from my doctoral thesis. I am developing both conceptual and literary strands of my thesis into journal articles on critical disability perspectives on the pandemic (‘Cripistemologies of COVID’) and textual analysis of intertwined health and housing precarity in contemporary Gothic writing (‘Cripp(l)ed Economies, Austere Times’). I am in the early stages of developing monograph and postdoctoral project proposals and continue to teach undergraduate modules in the School of English, most recently ‘Race, Writing and Decolonization’ (until May 2023).

Alongside my work at Leeds, I am also Associate Editor for Reviews at The Polyphony (based in the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University). My article ‘In a “Time of Undiagnosis”:  Unexplained Symptoms and Chronicity in Ali Smith’s Hotel World (2001)’ will be published in a Special Issue of JLCDS ‘Chronic Illness and Representation’ in 2023.