Dr Amelia DeFalco

University Academic Fellow in Medical Humanities

44 (0)113 343 2693

Summary: Medical humanities (especially cultural representations of aging, disability, care); companion robots; posthumanism; animal studies; affect studies; contemporary literature; comics

Location: 10.2.07


BA (University of Toronto), MA (McMaster University), PhD (University of Toronto)

I joined the University of Leeds in 2016 as a University Academic Fellow in Medical Humanities. Previously, I was a Banting postdoctoral fellow in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, Canada.

Research Interests

My research concerns representations of aging, illness, disability and care in contemporary literature and film. In my first book, Uncanny Subjects: Aging in Contemporary Narrative, I argue that aging, in particular, aging into old age, introduces subjects to a strangely familiar selfhood -- that is, to their own uncanniness – by producing a sense of alienation as the self becomes split between the authentic, familiar, youthful self and the false, strange, older one. The literary narratives I explore in Uncanny Subjects expose the spuriousness of this division, the degree to which we are always, already, in Julia Kristeva’s words, “strangers to ourselves,” by which she refers to an internal strangeness, one that aging exposes, I argue, rather than creates.

Investigations into dementia and identity conducted for Uncanny Subjects inspired my second major research project on literature and care, for which I received the 2009 Polanyi Prize for Literature, awarded by the Ontario provincial government (in Canada) to outstanding early-career researchers, as well as a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship. The research I conducted as a Banting fellow evolved into my second book, Imagining Care: Responsibility, Dependency, and Canadian Literature, which responds to ongoing debates over definitions and evaluative models in the philosophy of care, proposing literature (fiction, life writing, and graphic memoirs) as a means of determining both what it is to give and receive care, and how to interpret such performances of care. At the same time, the book suggests that literary explorations of caregiving have much to offer the larger understanding of how we imagine and construct the meaning of care in contemporary Canadian culture, often destabilizing the popular notion of Canada as a “caring” nation. 

My current research project, Curious Kin: Fictions of Posthuman Care, investigates non-human care, both actual and imagined. This work examines representations of companion animals and robots in literature, film, television, and advertising to explore how posthuman dependencies might transform our understanding of “humane” care and the human. In 2017 I organized the "Future of Care Initiative," a series of workshops that explored how emerging technologies, shifting economies, and the “non-human turn” are affecting the ethics and philosophy of care. I am also part of the Wellcome-funded "Augmented Selves" project, which brings together researchers from English, Philosophy, Engineering, Healthcare and Robotics to explore questions of augmentation, extension, disability, care and assistive technologies. You can follow the project on Twitter, @augmentedbodies. In addition, in 2017-18 I am convening the Leeds Sadler Seminar series “Touch: Sensing, Feeling, Knowing” with colleagues from Philosophy and Psychology.

Projects & Awards

“The Ethics and Aesthetics of Intimate Robot Care,” British Academy Small Research Grant (PI), 2018-19

“Touch: Sensing, Feeling, Knowing," Ignite Award, Cultural Institute, University of Leeds, 2018

Touch: Sensing, Feeling, Knowing,” Leeds Sadler Seminar Series (Co-convener), 2017-18

“Augmenting the Body,” Wellcome Trust Seed Award (Collaborator), 2017

“Future of Care Initiative,” Leeds Humanities Research Institute Pump Priming Award (PI), 2017

"Imagining Care," Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (PI), 2011-2013 

John Charles Polanyi Prize in Literature, 2009

"Labour and Love: The Ethics of Caregiving in Canadian Literature," Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral  Fellowship (PI), 2007-2009


Work in Progress

Curious Kin: Fictions of Posthuman Care

“Exquisite Shame”: Ethics and Affects in Alice Munro, co-edited with Lorraine York (forthcoming with Palgrave Palgrave Studies in Affect Theory and Literary Criticism Series).


Imagining Care: Responsibility, Dependency, and Canadian Literature (University of Toronto Press, 2016). 

Uncanny Subjects: Aging in Contemporary Narrative (Ohio State University Press, 2010).

Articles and Chapters

“The Shame of Affect: Sensation and Susceptibility in Alice Munro’s Fiction.” Ethics and Affects in the Fiction of Alice Munro. Ed. Amelia DeFalco and Lorraine York. Palgrave (forthcoming).

“Risking Feeling: Alice Munro’s Fiction of ‘Exquisite Shame’” Co-authored with Lorraine York. Ethics and Affects in the Fiction of Alice Munro. Ed. Amelia DeFalco and Lorraine York. Palgrave (forthcoming).

, Biocapitalism, and Affective Things.” Contemporary Women’s Writing 11.3 (2017): 432-451. (Special Issue: Margaret Atwood)

"Beyond Prosthetic Memory: Posthumanism, Embodiment, and Caregiving Robots.” Arts, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal 3 (2016).

"In Praise of Idleness: Aging and the Morality of Inactivity." Cultural Critique 92 (Winter 2016): 84-114.

"Graphic Somatography: Life Writing, Comics, and the Ethics of Care.” Journal of Medical Humanities. 37.3 (2016): 223-240.

“Uncanny Witnessing: Dementia, Narrative, and Identity in Fiction by Munro and Franzen.” Alive and Kicking at All Ages: Health, Life Expectancy, and Life Course Identity. Ed. Ulla Kriebernegg, Roberta Maierhofer, and Barbara Ratzenböck. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2013. 221-242. 

"Caretakers/Caregivers: Economies of Affection in Alice Munro." Twentieth-Century Literature 58.3 (2012): 377-398. 

Death in Venice and Beyond: Benjamin Britten's Late Works.” Co-authored with Kimberly Fairbrother Canton, Linda Hutcheon, Michael Hutcheon, Katherine Larson, and Helmut Reichenbaecher. University of Toronto Quarterly 81.4 (2012): 887-902. Special Issue: “Operatics: The Interdisciplinary Workings of Opera.” 

"Dementia, Caregiving and Narrative in Michael Ignatieff’s Scar Tissue." Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities 4 (2012). Special Issue: “Aging, Old Age, Memory, Aesthetics.”

"Moral Obligation, Disordered Care: The Ethics of Caregiving in Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder.” Contemporary Literature 52. 2 (2011): 237-264.

"Politics, Creativity, and the Aging Artist: Narrativizing Richard Strauss’s Last Years.” Co-authored with Kimberly Fairbrother Canton, Katherine Larson, and Helmut Reichenbaecher. Life Writing 6.2 (August 2009): 211-227.

“‘And then—’: Narrative Identity and Uncanny Aging in The Stone Angel.Canadian Literature 198 (Autumn 2008): 75-89. 

“Haunting Physicality: Corpses, Cannibalism, and Carnality in Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.” University of Toronto Quarterly 75.2 (Spring 2006): 771-783. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC). Vol. 232. Detroit: Gale, 2007.

“Jungle Creatures and Dancing Apes: Modern Primitivism and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 38.2 (June 2005): 19-35.

“A Double-Edged Longing: Nostalgia, Melodrama, and Todd Hayne’s Far from Heaven.” The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 5 (2004): 26-39.

Recent Conference Actitivities

“Imagining Posthuman Care.” Presenter and Panel Organizer: “Medical Posthumanities?: New Approaches to Illness, Disability, and Care.” Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research Congress. 2017 (Durham, UK).

"Real Humans = Real Care?: Affective Economies and Robot Eldercare in Real Humans." European Network in Aging Studies. 2016 (Graz, Austria).

“Dismantling the Autonomy Myth: Dependency, Comics and Care.” Discourses of Care: Care in Media, Medicine and Society. 2016 (Glasgow, UK). 

“Beyond Prosthetic Memory: Robots, Embodiment, and Care.” From Memory Loss to Memory Shift: Rethinking the Discourse of Pathology. 2015 (Toronto, ON, Canada).

“Imagining the Future of Care: Posthumanism, Representation, and Caregiving Technologies.” North American Network in Aging Studies, 2015 (Oxford, OH, USA).

“Gender, Care and Competition in Alice Munro’s ‘Some Women.’” Northeast Modern Language Association, 2015 (Toronto, ON, Canada).

“Representing Idleness: Resisting the Pathologization of Inactivity in Later Life.” Canadian Association on Gerontology, 2014 (Niagara Falls, ON, Canada). 

“In Praise of Idleness: ‘Inactivity’ and Witnessing in Gilead and The Straight Story.” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, 2013 (Victoria, BC, Canada).

“Graphic Care: Gender, Comics, and Dependency Work.” Comics & Medicine: Navigating the Margins, 2012 (Toronto, ON, Canada). 

“Dementia, Caregiving and Narrative in Michael Ignatieff’s Scar Tissue.” Aging, Old Age, Memory, Aesthetics Conference, 2011 (Toronto, ON).

“‘Parodies of Love’: The Demands of Care in Alice Munro’s Fiction.” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, 2010 (Montreal, QC, Canada). 

“Caring for Relative Others: Alterity and Narrative in Michael Ignatieff’s Scar Tissue.” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, 2009 (Ottawa, ON, Canada). 

Postgraduate Supervision

I would welcome enquiries from potential research students thinking of working on any issue connected to representations of disability, aging, dementia, care, the medical humanities, the posthuman, animal studies, comics, or Canadian literature. 

Undergraduate Teaching:

  • Medical Humanities: Representing Illness, Disability, and Care 
  • American Words, American Worlds
  • Home Bodies: Domestic Animals in Contemporary Literature