French Autopathography

21-22 November 2014

Call for Papers

French Autopathography: Disability, Disease and Disorders from First-Person Perspectives


Queen’s University Belfast, 21-22 November 2014


Keynote Speakers: Dr Hannah Thompson (Royal Holloway, University of London)

          Dr Tamar Tembeck (McGill University, Montreal)


(Detail from Picasso, Autoportrait, 30 June 1972)

Call for Papers


Coinciding with the rise in cases of cancer and AIDS from the 1980s onwards, the modern outbreak of patient-authored narratives of ill-health or incapacity has provided fresh perspectives to complement traditional medical literature and third-person illness narratives. Known as autopathographies, these patients’ tales give voice to the embodied experience of illness, suffering, disease and, following Thomas Couser’s definition, disability too. Acknowledging that the French tradition of autopathography can be traced back as far as Montaigne, this conference explores a rich but often-neglected corpus of first-person accounts across time-frames and disciplines in an effort to understand more fully what the sociologist Arthur Frank has called people’s need to ‘tell their stories’, be they of the plague, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, leukaemia, cardiac disease, cancer, AIDS, motor neurone disease, eating disorders, stress disorders, or forms of disability (physical, cognitive, sensory, etc.), to name but a few. In this way, it interprets the term autopathography in its broadest sense, and embraces not only literature and creative writing, but also first-person documentary, visual, digital (eg. blogs) and other artistic and creative forms such as performance, dance, montage, sculpture, self-portraits or photography.

Areas to be discussed may include, but are not limited to:

  • The structural and ideological issues that characterise French/francophone autopathographies
  • The subject as ‘narrative wreck’ [Frank]
  • Personal perspectives on French/francophone healthcare institutions and treatment processes
  • The ways in which the French language communicates pain, following Elaine Scarry’s remark that ‘physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it’
  • The use of metaphor in self-authored accounts of illness or disability
  • French/francophone literature and/or art’s ‘restorative’ function [Deleuze]
  • Autopathography as genre? A challenge to the tenets of autobiographical writing? A new ‘pact’?
  • The relationship between autopathography and trauma narrative/testimony
  • Interfaces between autopathography and science/medicine in France/the French-speaking world
  • The impact of gender and/or class on illness formulations, attitudes to therapies etc.


250-word proposals for 20-minute papers (or three-paper panels), in French or English, should be sent to Dr Steven Wilson by email attachment at the following address:


The deadline for receipt of proposals is Friday 30 May 2014.


Kindly supported by the MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association) and the School of Modern Languages at Queen’s.





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