Dr Donna McCormack
I currently hold an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship for the project Transplant Imaginaries: Haunted Times, Segregated Spaces and Embodied Ethics. This interdisciplinary research analyses the relationship between haunting and selfhood, as well as how space constitutes health inequalities. Its focus is social justice with an emphasis post-transplant care and an ethics of the body.
I joined Surrey in 2015 as a Lecturer in English Literature after holding a four-year research fellowship at the Centre for Women's and Gender Research, University of Bergen, Norway. I have previously held research fellowships at the School of English, University of Leeds, the School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow, and the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland.
My research spans the fields of medical humanities, postcolonial studies, queer theory and monster studies, with a focus on contemporary literature and film, embodiment and memory, and biotechnologies. I recently published a monograph with Bloomsbury entitled Queer Postcolonial Narratives and the Ethics of Witnessing. My current work also delves into evolutionary theory, with a particular emphasis on Richard Goldschmidt's theory of the Hopeful Monster. I am also working on a monograph provisionally entitled Recycling Global Life: Human Organ Transplantation in Contemporary Literature and Film.
University roles and responsibilities
- SLL Representative on the LGBTQI+ Committee (2015–2018)
- Dissertations Coordinator (2015–2019)
- International Officer (2017–2018)
I am a co-investigator on the project The Embodied Self, Health and Emerging Technologies, which is funded by the Swedish Research Council – NOS-HS.
I was the principal investigator on the project Disability, Arts and Health, which was funded by the Nordic Culture Fund.
Postcolonial Theory and Fiction
Science and Speculative Fiction
Theories of Evolution
Contemporary biomedical innovations, particularly human organ transplantation, are championed across biomedicine, the media and the general public as successful life-saving interventions. However, interdisciplinary research has shown a rising bioethical anxiety regarding the meaning of transferring body parts from one deceased human to another. This project analyses this pressing bioethical issue through the lens of contemporary novels and films, because these media raise important concerns and anxieties often ignored in celebratory biomedical and public discourses. Through the completion of a research monograph, the organisation of UK and international events, and the creation of multi-media outputs on transplantation, this project will analyse not only the impact biotechnologies have on how we understand the human body in relation to health and illness, but also how transplantation is tied to larger issues of national belonging, social justice and bodily ethics.
While extensive research has focused on the often-problematic relation between donor and recipient, as well as on the global problems of organ donation, little attention has been given to the significance of either time or space in understanding the experiences of and social inequalities involved in organ transplantation. This project will address these gaps by examining how novels and films portray 1) haunting as central to the post-transplant experience; and 2) space as central to health care inequalities. The project offers a potentially significant contribution to post-transplant care in its consideration of how death relates to life and how absent others may feel present, and thus in offering a critical intervention into how patient narratives are heard and interpreted. In addition, it offers an important contribution to thinking how the architecture of health care may structure social hierarchies and, as a result, how segregation is produced through the very spaces of care.
This project is important because its engagement with illness and time, as well as with space and health inequalities, is central to rethinking contemporary politics, which rely on biological metaphors of exclusion. Its goal is therefore to re- examine understandings of social inequalities and social justice through the exploration of ethics in the context of the transplant body. That is, it addresses the critical issue of how life comes to be valued and why some lives are disposable or useful only for their organs. It thereby examines politics, particularly migration, hospitality and the ethics of welcoming the other, through the metaphor of bodily exchanges, always addressing the ever-pressing issue of how lives come to matter.
Transplantation is an interdisciplinary issue that is of concern to a wide public, and therefore a significant aim of this project is to make the research accessible to non-academic audiences. Medical and public fora are dominated by heroic transplant narratives and therefore this project has the goal of expanding the parameters of these discussions through a public dialogue between local and international transplant surgeons, artists and scholars, as well as through the creation of a freely available podcast series in which clinicians, artists and scholars discuss issues surrounding transplantation. The project also aims to contribute to and develop medical practice through the development of a large-scale online module, organised in collaboration with clinicians in South Africa, and through a public lecture at Edinburgh School of Medicine. These events aim to encourage public and medical engagement with knowledge often invalidated in the medical context but prevalent in public and fictional arenas. In so doing, its goal is to expand knowledge in this interdisciplinary area, which will enhance public knowledge and feed into my research, as well as provide potentially useful new approaches and new topics in the study and discussion of transplantation.
The primary objective of the workshops is to respond to and explore the development and impact of newly emerging technologies on the embodied self, and more particularly on our expectations of health in the early 21st century. Some of the technologies have long been in practice but the current rapid expansion of interventions into the body has brought the issues to the forefront of all lives whether in illness or health. The advances happening within Nordic laboratories, clinics and hospitals are, as elsewhere, often seen as wholly beneficial, but we aim to inquire more rigorously into the implications for both individuals and society. Given that the organisers all identify as feminist scholars, the gender dimensions of emerging technologies will be consciously pursued. We will use the methodological resources of both humanities and social sciences to unpack what is at stake for future policy in the Nordic countries, and to identify where further critical research is needed.
The secondary objective is to provide fora that will bring together academics, bioscientists and other stakeholders to discuss both mutual concerns and points of conflict. Members of the Nordic Network Gender, Health and Body will be heavily involved and will promote the inclusion of early career scholars as well as calling on contacts beyond the academic sphere. The longer term objective is to formulate further research proposals that address how technology-driven policy can satisfy bioethics.
Postgraduate research supervision
Mine Sevinc, 'Modern Day Shahrazads in Third World Women's Writing' (funded by Turkish Ministry of Education)
Hajar Mahfoodh, 'Resistance in Modern Arab Poetry'
Heather Ballantyne, 'Eating Disorders in Contemporary Fiction' (TECHNE-funded)
Genevieve Fox, Practice-based Creative Writing (TECHNE-funded)
Judith Popova, Transnational Western Literature of the 1960s
I am interested in supervising projects that engage with postcolonial theory and/or fiction; health, illness and biotechnologies; and/or queer theory and fiction. I am particularly keen to supervise projects that work in science/speculative fiction and that focus on health and/or ability.
ELI3047 Health, Illness and Technological Imaginaries (convenor)
ELI3033 Dissertation (convenor)
ELI3034 Creative Writing Submissions (convenor)
ELI2012 Contemporary Literature: Gender and Sexuality
ELI1025 Understanding the Novel (convenor)
LAS2007 Enhancing Interdisciplinary Skills (Convenor)
ELI1011 Theories of Reading
ELI1022 History of English Literature
ELIM006 Research and Writing Skills
ways of belonging. Through an exploration of the safe space that
emerges in Shani Mootoo?s novel Cereus Blooms at Night, this
article suggests that a notion of self-reflexive responsibility is one
possible way to forge non-violent bodily and spatial boundaries.
This ethical way of existing and reading comes into being through
the imaginary queer postcolonial space of the novel. The direct
relation between ethics and hope for the subject positions in Cereus
Blooms at Night suggests there is hope for the reader to begin to
produce ethical encounters with texts, bodies and spaces.
and the families of deceased donors. Its focus is Alejandro González Iñárritu?s 2003
production 21 Grams because this film brings to the fore both the urgent desire of
the organ recipient to be close to the donor family and the purported pathological
ramifications of such encounters. Furthermore, the formal representation of time
portrays the very ways in which normative structures of temporality are disrupted
and perhaps irreversibly altered by the organ transfer process. The article explores
how the film forecloses the possibility of the organ recipient and the donor family
creating a viable relationship. It argues that the film terminates a transplant
temporality by structuring the narrative ending through a normative linear
trajectory of reproductive heterosexuality. It concludes with an examination of how
the donor family returns to a life of sameness where social norms are restored and
repeated, and where transplantees accept a deadly fate so that anxieties about
bodily relationality and disruptive temporalities can be assuaged.
In this article, I examine three contemporary films that bring together histories of transnational racism and ethical quandaries regarding organ donation: Miguel Sapochnik's Repo Men (-2010
- Sapochnik , M. (Dir.) ( 2010 ). Repo Men [DVD]. USA: Universal.
), David Moreau's The Eye (-2008
- Moreau , D. (Dir.) ( 2008 ). The Eye [DVD]. USA: Lionsgate.
), and Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things (-2002
- Frears , S. (Dir.) ( 2002 ). Dirty Pretty Things [DVD]. UK: Miramax.
). These films are diverse in genre and diegesis, and yet, I argue, they all share a preoccupation with how the biotechnological imperative to cut through bodily borders is intimately tied to state control, surveillance, and protection of geopolitical boundaries. The Eye and Repo Men are popular Hollywood productions designed to appeal to a mass audience through their emphasis on the spectacle of fear, stereotypical gendered and raced characterizations, and gory, violent visualities. The Eye is an American adaptation of a Hong Kong production (Pang and Chung
queer and postcolonial theories to
imagine non-violent ways of
belonging. Focusing on Shani
Mootoo?s novels, Cereus Blooms at
Night and He Drown She in the Sea, it
suggests that the process of imagining
relationships beside the demands of
the colonial and heterosexual nation is
a politically imperative project. This
work is located at the intersections of
queer and postcolonial theories in an
attempt to, like Mootoo?s novels,
render intelligible those bodies and
histories that come into being outside
of existing norms. In this sense, it
suggests that by existing beside norms
we can begin to reformulate, revisit
and recreate boundaries of existence
and belonging. Moreover, it argues
that these actions are constantly in
process and always coming into
being, thus demanding perpetual
critique and responsibility as political
necessities. Finally, it suggests that
there is a need to work with our own
vulnerabilities rather than representing
the human as a contained, coherent,
invincible being. Through this idea of
the vulnerable, articulated in Mootoo?s
texts, we begin to see non-violent
belonging as becoming imaginable.
The following chapters locate the potential of Shahrazadean narrative in Hanan al- Shaykh?s One Thousand and One Nights (2011), Elif Shafak?s The Gaze (2006), and Honour (2012) in order to challenge and re-imagine societal norms and structures. I argue that postcolonial feminine writing enables Shafak and al-Shaykh to re-create liberating spaces and rethink patriarchal literary discourses as embodied. By demonstrating how Shahrazad uses her body to access a narrative voice and intertwines narrative desire with sexual desire, I trace the potential of voice to the body through postcolonial feminine writing. Then, I identify how postcolonial feminine writing enables multiple and fluid gazing positions, allowing marginalised figures to be subjects of the gaze and re-define their gender and societal identities. By questioning the patriarchal binary oppositions of voice/silence and honour/shame, I explore how it is also possible for silence and shame to be alternative forms of communication. Consequently, I argue that postcolonial feminine writing enables temporary interventions into patriarchal and colonial discourses. It is the repetition of these interventions, albeit temporary, that undermines patriarchal power structures whilst re- inventing more subversive and liberating discourses as well as embodied potentialities.