As an undergraduate I studied French and German at Cambridge. Before starting graduate work I held year-long English-teaching posts at the University of Tunis and in a school in rural Quebec, which inspired a long-term interest in the francophone world outside France. In 1989 I began a PhD about censorship, first back in Cambridge and then for two years in Paris, including a year working as a lector at the ENS in the rue d’Ulm. I returned to Cambridge in 1992 to take up a Junior Research Fellowship at St Catharine's College, where I began working on francophone literature of the Maghreb. After the fellowship I held a university lectureship in Cambridge. I moved to London in 1998, working first at UCL and then, from 2005, at King’s.
Research Interests and PhD Supervision
- Colonial / postcolonial studies
- North Africa, especially its francophone writers
- Literary and critical theory
- History of education
My research interests are quite diverse, but a recurring theme has been the sort of political work that literary texts – and also films – are imagined to do, by censors, critics, writers and teachers. This entails an interest both in political and historical contexts, and in notions of literary and aesthetic specificity or value. I have worked above all on writing in French from the Maghreb, especially Algeria, including work by Djebar, Dib, Feraoun, Amrouche, Chraïbi, Camus, Derrida, Cixous, Memmi, and Fanon; I have also written about Conrad, Freud, Said, the Marquis de Sade, the Tel Quel group and the Surrealists; about films by Truffaut and Pontecorvo; and about issues including secularism, metaphor, comparative/world literature and translation. For some years I have been working primarily on colonial education; my book Our Civilizing Mission: The Lessons of Colonial Education appeared with Liverpool University Press in June 2019.
I have supervised and am happy to supervise PhD students whose interests connect with any of my interests; previous students' work has been diverse geographically (concerning France, the Maghreb, and other parts of the francophone world), in subject area (French, Comparative Literature, Film), and in topic and approach.
For more details, please see my full research profile.
North African and other francophone literature; French literature of all periods, especially the modern novel; postcolonial and literary theory; film; the French language (especially translation).
Expertise and Public Engagement
In connection with my work in postcolonial studies, especially on francophone literature, on the capacities of 'literature' in general, and on education, I have become involved in debates around the French syllabus in secondary schools, and in various 'professional development' activities for teachers wanting to introduce new francophone/postcolonial material into their teaching.
- Circles of Censorship: Censorship and its Metaphors in French History, Literature, and Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)
- Postcolonial Criticism: History, Theory and the Work of Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003)
- The Idea of the Literary, special issue of Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, 28.2 (2005). Editor and contributor. Other contributors: Derek Attridge, Alain Badiou, Jean Bessière, Assia Djebar, Simon Jarvis, Benita Parry, Jacques Rancière, Corinna Russell.
- Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘Battle of Algiers’, 40 Years On, special issue of Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 9.3 (2007). Editor and contributor. Other contributors: Danièle Djamila Amrane-Minne, Patricia Caillé, David Forgacs, Benjamin Stora, Saadi Yacef.
- 'World literature: what gets lost in translation?' Journal of Commonwealth Literature (June 2014)
- Our Civilizing Mission: The Lessons of Colonial Education (Liverpool University Press, 2019)