Dr Clare Barker

Dr Clare Barker


I have been working at Leeds since 2012, having previously held a lectureship at the University of Birmingham. I first developed my interest in postcolonial literatures as a postgraduate student here in the School of English: I did an MA in Postcolonial Literature, and my PhD, at Leeds. My research is currently focused on the Wellcome-funded LivingBodiesObjects project, which involves collaborations with health-related charities, museums, and creative industry partners to explore creative ways of understanding and telling stories about health and embodiment. Previous research projects have been supported by AHRC-ESRC and Wellcome funding. I am currently the Director of Postgraduate Research Studies for the School of English and am happy to offer advice to potential PhD applicants to the School.


  • Director for Postgraduate Research Studies

Research interests

I work in the fields of disability studies and medical humanities, and broadly speaking my research focuses on representations of health, disability and biomedical research in contemporary, postcolonial and Indigenous literature and film. I have a longstanding interest in the ways in which disability, health, and illness are experienced, represented, and imagined across cultural contexts, and in how fiction can shape and transform our understandings of embodiment, medicine, and health. Throughout my career I have worked to produce and maintain dialogue between research fields (such as between postcolonial and disability studies) and to ensure that debates within health and disability-related areas of study are inclusive of, and learn from, texts and knowledges from the global South.

My 2011 book, Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children, Metaphor and Materiality, was the first monograph to explore the intersection between disability studies and postcolonial literatures. It examines the metaphorical functions of disability within a range of texts that engage with decolonisation, where the figure of the disabled child often symbolises the postcolonial nation-state – ‘damaged’ and fragile, yet embodying the potential for radical difference. It argues that many postcolonial texts do not simply deploy disability as metaphor, however, but also explore the materiality of disability, representing disabled children as agents, citizens and knowers, and exploring the politics of embodiment, interdependency, healthcare, citizenship, and discrimination in their particular cultural locations.

I enjoy working collaboratively and have undertaken several editorial projects that bring researchers together to collaborate on shaping new directions in our fields. I have co-edited special issues of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies on ‘Disabling Postcolonialism’ (2010, with Stuart Murray) and ‘Disability and Indigeneity’ (2013, with Siobhan Senier), guest edited an issue of Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writing on ‘Literature, Medicine, Health’ (2019), and guest edited an issue of BMJ Medical Humanities on ‘Global Genetic Fictions’ (2021; click here to listen to my podcast on this special issue). With my colleague Stuart Murray I co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Disability (Cambridge University Press, 2017), a book designed to be accessible for students and which brings together experts in disability studies to explore the literary representation of disability across historical periods from medieval to contemporary literature, across cultural locations and major genres, and using a range of critical approaches. Click here to read our article on literature and disability in The Guardian.

I am currently a Co-PI on the Wellcome-funded University of Leeds project LivingBodiesObjects: Technology and the Spaces of Health (2022-24), which centres on the development of a physical and virtual medical humanities ‘lab’ and explores ways of working that seek to make academic research culture more accessible, equitable and inclusive. Click here to listen to a podcast about our ways of working. As part of the LBO project, I have been leading our collaboration with the Bhopal Medical Appeal to develop digital resources that tell the story of two intertwined disasters in Bhopal, India, caused by negligence in a Union Carbide factory site: the 1984 gas disaster – a gas leak that killed many thousands of people and is known as the world’s worst industrial disaster – and the lesser known disaster of contaminated groundwater in the areas surrounding the factory site, which predated the gas disaster by around a decade and continues to cause serious illnesses and disabilities for many thousands of residents of local communities to the present day. I have a longstanding interest in representations of the Bhopal disasters in fiction, film, photography, campaigns and journalism. Click here to read about activist and artistic responses to the disaster.

Another ongoing project focuses on representations of genetics and biocolonialism in contemporary literature and film. Initially funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award, this project explores how genetic research (and biomedical research more widely) impacts upon researched communities, and focuses on literary and film texts that engage critically with the ways in which genetic research reproduces the extractive and oppressive dynamics of colonialism. 


Academic Activities

  • I am a member of the Wellcome Trust’s Humanities and Social Sciences Career Development Award interview panel.
  • As a panel member for the WRoCAH English and Cultural Studies subject cluster, I assess PhD applications across the WRoCAH network of universities (Leeds, York and Sheffield).
  • As Director for Postgraduate Research Studies in the School of English, I run a module on Postgraduate Research Skills and Environments and deliver regular professional development workshops for PGRs.
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • Postgraduate Certificate Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (University of Birmingham)
  • PhD Postcolonial Literary Studies (University of Leeds)
  • MA Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literatures (University of Leeds)
  • BA English Literature (Durham University)

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research
  • European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies
  • British Society for Literature and Science
  • Native American and Indigenous Studies Association
  • Association for the Study of American Indian Literature

Student education

I greatly enjoy teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I teach on core undergraduate modules on contemporary and postcolonial literatures and offer option modules on disability representation in literature and film and Indigenous literature and film. I have a special interest in disability issues in higher education and I am committed to improving accessibility for students with physical and cognitive differences in whatever ways I can.

PhD supervision is one of my favourite parts of my job and I welcome enquiries from potential PhD students working in any of my research areas. I have supervised PhD projects on the following topics:

Current PhD students

  • Daisy Powell (2019-present), ‘Austerity Fictions: Disability, Class and Resistance in Twenty-First Century British Literature and Film’.
  • Josephine Rodgers (2019-present), ‘Reframing Abortion: Near-Future Reproductive Rights Dystopias’.
  • Charlotte Makepeace (2019-present), ‘Blindness, Touch and Knowledge in Select Modernist Fiction’. 
  • Shauna Walker (2020-present), ‘A1 Nation: Health, the Body, and Interwar Literature’.
  • Amy Redhead (2020-present), ‘Disabling Discourses and Down's Syndrome: Representations of Down's Syndrome in the Documentary Genre’.
  • Blaise Sales (2021-present), ‘Models of Cognition and Contemporary Ecofiction’.
  • Judy Goate (2021-present), ‘Intersectional Life Writing: A Memoir of Being Black, British and Sick During the 1980s’.
  • Melissa Wan (2022-present), ‘Making the Absent Present: Disability, Textual Erasure and (Not) Writing Sex’.
  • Anisha Gamblin (2023-present), title TBC.

Completed PhD students

  • Alex Henry (2018-22), ‘Unexplained Chronic Illness in Twenty-First Century British Women's Writing’.
  • Emily Timms (2016-21), ‘Postcolonial Representations of Age and Ageing in Caribbean and Aotearoa New Zealand Fiction and Film’.
  • Katrina Longhurst (supervised 2018-19), ‘Critical Strategies of Narrating Mental Illness in Contemporary Life Writing’.
  • Lucy Rowland (2015-18), ‘“Tortured Ecologies”: Environmental Disaster and Climate Discourse in Contemporary Women’s Speculative Fiction’.
  • Saira Dogar (2013-17), ‘Space-Body Dynamics in Selected Works by Kamila Shamsie and Uzma Aslam Khan’.

Research groups and institutes

  • Medical Humanities Research Group

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>