Shared Responsibility: Auto/Biography and the Ethics of Representation

Chair: Stephanie Butler, Newcastle University


Sunny Singh, London Metropolitan University – Yes, Cultural Appropriation is a Thing! A novelist’s view of representation, narrative power and ethics of fiction

Stephanie Butler, Newcastle University – (Re)Presenting Virginia Woolf: Ethical Challenges in Depicting Women who experience Mental Illnesses and Sexual Trauma

Helen Limon, Newcastle University – Razzle Dazzle? life story and creative defiance.

Rosie Canning, Southampton University – Ethical responsibility and the representation of care leavers in contemporary fiction.

Who has the right to represent a life in fiction? Where are the boundaries? Are there in fact any boundaries at all?

This roundtable examines ethical challenges for the representations of lives, particularly issues of gender, sexuality, trauma, and adversity. We ask who has the right to represent a life. Whether we are scholars depicting another person’s life, autobiographers whose self-disclosures may harm others, or creative writers inspired by life experiences, issues of ownership shape what we can represent, and how.

Sunny Singh critiques wider discourses regarding literary representations of marginalised groups with respect to cultural appropriation. Moving beyond facile arguments of ‘freedom of speech,’ she examines the writer’s role in producing critical, empowering, appropriative and exploitative fictions.

Dr. Helen Limon discusses ethical problems resulting from women military veterans’ life stories being shaped to cohere with the images of the charities and support organizations using these stories as currency to generate resources.

Stephanie Butler argues that common themes in biographies of Virginia Woolf reveal how cultural attitudes towards sexual abuse survivors, queer women, and women with mental illnesses influence auto/biography studies scholarship.

Rosie Canning draws on representations of care leavers in literature, and her experience as a care leaver, to discuss how fictional depictions of orphans often perpetuate negative stereotypes, such as criminality, contending that these representations are not ethical.

Wednesday 5th July, 12.30