Representations of Disability and reproduction




Crista Couture, photo by Jen Squires- image from here 


I found this article a really powerful piece and wanted to share a few words around it- as someone who explores experiences of (in)fertility and who is beginning to examine amputation from a sociological perspective, there was much within the article and its images to inspire . The author of the piece Crista Couture describes not seeing any bodies ‘like hers’ when looking at maternity photos (i.e. images of pregnant women) so decided to make her own pictures, despite not having had professional photos taken without her prosthesis on before. The article, despicts the rationale for these photos as well as sharing the visual outputs such as the one above.

Christa describes ‘it wasn’t just that I didn’t see any amputees in maternity photos — I didn’t see any kind of disability. At all. Or really any other body differences. It turns out maternity photo shoots, like the rest of the depictions of women readily available, abound with thin, white bodies’

When it comes to bodies, the normative depiction is of the entact, sculpted, ‘perfect’ form- the idea that, as Margrit Shildrick (2015) has described, bodies can be ‘leaky’ is absent from such narratives. Bodies that are altered, transformed or different from this pervasive norm are absent from representations within society, not only of bodies, but certainly from reproduction.

The social construction of this norm therefore centres around being exclusionary – the ‘othering’ of any bodies that do not conform to the ‘white, thin’ narrative therefore happens by virtue of the construction of what we see the pregnant female form to be in contemporary society. Whilst we then rarely see the celebration of the pregnant disabled female form, we also regularly do not see the ordinary reality of those who have experienced the loss of a limb through amputation. Amputation by virtue of its defintion relates to removal, of an absecnce or loss, pregnancy on the other hand is a period of creation, growth, of multiplication, Crista’s photographs demonstrate a postive reminder that bodie are capable of adpating, changing, altering and that this is part of their strength.

In producing images that celebrate the corporeal form as it is, Crista Couture and photographer Jen Squires have created a powerful set of images- beautiful in their depiction of the pregnant form, and celebrating the body for its realness. The mono-perspective of the human form serves a minority who identify with such images of perfection and the industries which promote the (often unrealistic) quest to achieve such forms,  whilst reinforcing the idea that all bodies should be prefect.We need to see difference as part of the reality of bodies and only through seeing representations of diverse forms will that be achieved. 



Men’s experiences of infertility – Findings from a new survey

To coincide with National Fertility Awareness Week (30th Oct- 5th Nov) we are pleased to be launching the findings of a new survey about men’s experiences of infertility. The first qualitative questionnaire of its kind, we asked men a number of open questions about their experiences and what matters to them in relation to infertility. The survey was a partnership between the research team at Leeds Beckett and Fertility Network UK (the national fertility charity in the UK) and we hope that the findings will help shine the spotlight onto the feelings, experiences and difficulties then men encounter during fertility testing, diagnosis and treatment. A short video about the research and its findings is available here: and the infographic below highlights some of the key messages from the survey:

FINAL fertility infographic

The Productive Researcher

productive researcher

The new book my Prof. Mark Reed (Founder of Fast Track Impact ) The Productive Researcher is out today. I have been part of Mark’s ‘launch team’ which excitingly meant I got an early preview of the book in exchange for my honest thoughts about it.

I like to think I am fairly productive so I was interested to see what I could learn from the book. I was also keen to understand how or it if could be useful to researchers like myself who are at the outset of my career. Academics, especially those at the early part of their careers are often under huge pressure, publishing, applying for grants, teaching, managing workload, building a profile, to name but a few tasks, and this is increasingly being done whilst on precarious contracts. Workloads in research are often private affairs too, whilst we may work collaboratively, we are often as researchers responsible for our day to day time and workload management and so knowing what others might be getting through or doing is sometimes mysterious. That Mark explores the ideas of other scholars, their advice for achieving more without sacrificing all of yourself is therefore really enlightening.

The book as a whole I found really interesting. There are a lot of deeply personal reflections from Mark at the start of the book, the honesty of that is appealing and really helps set the tone for the book. A lot of the words in the book feel like the good advice you perhaps wished you had received at the start of your career, and there is no preachy tone about time management. Whilst the book does tackle the issue of ‘saying no’ (a common piece of advice extolled across productivity and careers advice type articles) there is an awareness that saying no is contextual, is linked to power and opportunity and that it is really dificult. In that regard the tone of the book really reminded me of Leap Year . 

The central message of the book for me was about connecting with why you are a researcher. Why do we do research? We will all have varied answers for that question, for me, I enjoy the new knowledge, solving a puzzle or answering a question, I also want and try to do work that is meaningful, giving a voice to those who may be marginalised or silenced, and to try and improve things in whatever small ways I can through doing so. In the daily rush of the tasks that we face, that bigger picture can sometimes be less clear or feel far away, but as The productive Researcher rightly points out- ” When you remember why you are doing what you are doing, you will do it for the right reasons, and you will do it better”.

Overall, a really interesting book. That a researcher has written the book helps, Mark ‘gets it’, and there are elements that will be potentially useful for all the career stages of the academic journey. Mostly I found reading it motivating, it gave me a renewed sense of wanting to get out there and do work that I believe to be ‘good’ which can never be a bad thing.

You can find the book here


A few thoughts about research participants

As a qualitative researcher most of my work involves speaking to people, asking them about their experiences, trying to understand what matters to them and then using this information to address the research questions that I have. Research participants are therefore central to such work, without them there would be no data, no new information and we would struggle to keep moving forwards with interpretations and understandings. Others have written about why people get involved in research and identify that a personal interest can be driving factor or people can seek or hope that research will bring about change or that they will be represented in some ways. It’s important that as researchers we think about the motivations of people participating in the research we do, but it’s also really important that we think about our appreciation of them doing so to.

From doing my PhD research, where I condcuted what were often long oral history interviews, I quickly learnt that research participants are often exceedingly generous to researchers, giving up time, offering hospitality and allowing you into personal aspects of their lives. This sense has only continued as I have moved into doing applied health research where I am often asking people about intimate or emotive topics. The generosity of research participants must be acknowledged, not just between the researcher and participant but more publically. So this post is a thank you to everyone who engages with and gives generously to enable our research to occur. Thank you for giving your time, for speaking up and for being willing to be open and invested in the idea that research can and should be a potential mechanism for change.


An update

There has been something of a radio silence here on the blog in the last few months, as other priorities have taken precedence, so I thought I would do a quick update post on what I have been working on and what’s been keeping me occupied before I try and get back into some more regular and topical posts.

Projects: I am lucky to be working on a number of great projects, including two evaluations of projects for young dads (NEYDL and YDC). I have also been piloting work about lifestyle and male fertility and have done a number of really fascinating interviews so far for this work, how that will develop is a work in progress. We also have data from our male fertility survey in partnership with Fertility Network UK that we will be analysing soon, again watch this space for more information about the findings from that exciting project. It was my first time using a qualitative questionnaire for that project so it will be interesting to reflect on that experience in due course.

Writing: I’m in the midst of writing my second book! To be published by Palgrave, Supporting Young Men as Fathers-Gendered Understandings of Group-Based Community Provisions, has been a joy to write and it will be exciting to get it out in the world in due course. I have also been working on a number of papers from our male infertility work and developing publications from other research projects so lots of writing has been happening.

Teaching: I am looking forward to getting back in the classroom at the start of team and working with Nutrition and Dietetics team at Leeds Beckett to deliever social science teaching to their students. Teaching sociology and applied health social science is a really interesting and enjoyable process and I will be developing new modules over the next year so I may post more about that too.


Men, lifestyle and fertility issues: Call for participants.

I am currently starting a small research project (a pilot) into understanding men’s experiences of lifestyle factors (things like diet, supplements, exercise, smoking, drinking etc) and fertility. There is currently not much evidence about lifestyle and fertility, particularly how men might change or modify the things they do/eat/take when trying to concieve. I am looking for a small number of men to take part in the research- more information about who can take part is below. If you, or someone you know may be interested in taking part then please get in touch (my contact details at the bottom of the post)


What is the purpose of the research?

The research is a pilot study to explore men’s experiences in relation to their perceptions about lifestyle factors (diet, exercise etc) in relation to fertility issues and whether men have made any changes to their own lifestyles whilst trying to conceive. We are looking to explore the experiences of men who have experienced fertility issues, either themselves through male factor fertility issues or within their relationships through female factor or unexplained fertility issues.  The research is open to any men aged 16+.

What does taking part involve?

Taking part involves being interviewed about your experiences. You will be asked some questions about lifestyle and fertility. The interview should take no more than an hour and can be conducted in person or over the telephone, at a date and time convenient to you. You will be given a £20 high street gift voucher as a thank you for participating in the interview.

What sort of questions will I be asked?

You will be asked questions about your views and experiences of lifestyle and fertility. We may ask you about your own lifestyle and practices as well as information you may have sought or received around lifestyle modification in the context of fertility issues.

What about confidentiality?

You will be asked if we can digitally record the interview so that we can accurately capture the information you provide. Anything that could be personal to you, such as your name, will be changed on transcription to protect your identity. Only members of the research team will have access to the transcripts and recording, and the information obtained will be used only for the purpose of this research. All information will be stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act. What you say during the interview will be confidential, unless anything raised gives the researcher cause for concern about harm to you or to others.

What will happen to my contribution?

Your interview information will be considered and analysed alongside other interview data. We may use the findings to design a larger research project, including applying for funding for research, and may use the research to produce academic publications.

Can I withdraw from the research?

Taking part in the interview is voluntary. You can then withdraw from the research at any point and we will not include your views in the research. If you wish to withdraw from the project please contact the research team on the details below. The final date for withdrawing from the research is the 30th September 2017.

What happens now?

If you are willing to take part, the research team at Leeds Beckett University will arrange a time/date for the interview to take place.

Who is conducting and funding the research?

The research is being conducted by the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett University and is being supported by funds from Centre for Applied Social Research (CeASR) at Leeds Beckett University

Who has reviewed the study?

The research has been reviewed and approved through Leeds Beckett University Research Ethics procedures.  If you have a concern about any aspect of this research you should ask to speak to the researchers who will do their best to answer your questions. If you remain unhappy and wish to speak to someone independent from the study, you can do this through Dr Louise Warwick- Booth, School of Health and Community Studies, Leeds Beckett University (email:

To take part or ask questions about the research please contact: 

Dr Esmée Hanna.

Centre for Health Promotion Research, Room 505 Calverley Building, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, LS1 3HE.  (0113) 812 5916

Survey: Men’s experiences of infertility

In partnership with Fertility Network UK today we are launching a new survey to find out the experiences and views of men who have been impacted by fertility issues.

The survey is available here and is open to all men aged 16 and over. We are conducting this research because little is known about how men understand, experience and cope with fertility issues. The responses we receive will be analysed and publicised to raise awareness of men’s needs about fertility. The survey involves completing a number of open questions- we have given people space to share their thoughts and views so that we can capture an indepth perspective of what matters to men.

The survey link provides more information about how to complete the survey and what taking part entails and how we will use the information. We are really keen to get as many men completing the survey as possible, so if you want to share the link or this post that would be much appreciated!

I will post more information about findings from this survey on the blog once the project is completed in the Autumn.