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Current research projects in French Studies

Contemporary Projections of French as a World Language

Professor Jeremy Ahearne is currently exploring the very different ways in which French has been represented or ‘projected’ as a world language across the last two decades. He is tracing such projections across the work of language theorists, French governments, language observatories attached to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, and selected literary and philosophical writers from across the francophone world.

Staging Napoleonic Theatre

Benefiting from AHRC follow-on funding for 12 months (2016-17) to engage with new audiences, Professor Katherine Astbury’s Napoleonic theatre project team have been working with theatre practitioners and musicians on workshops to further our understanding of the performance of theatre during the period, using the manuscript scores of melodramas to reproduce the music that would have accompanied the speech and action to better understand the relationship between form and content. The project culminated in two performances, one a collaboration with the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond and the other with English Heritage at Portchester Castle.

French T-Shirt Slogans and Gender

Plenty of us nowadays see French words and phrases on t-shirts sold in well-known high street shops. Along with Dr Gilles Baro at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, Dr Will AmosLink opens in a new window is exploring the gendered nature of French t-shirt slogans sold in the UK and South Africa. This sociolinguistic research demonstrates that love, relationships, and fashion are key themes in the women’s lines, whereas men’s t-shirts rarely feature French; but when they do they evince broader themes of place-names and generic political slogans. The project asks how far t-shirt French can be described as a ‘feminine language’, and what this says about how retailers seek to define women and girl consumers.

Translation and Untranslatability in Medieval French Texts

Dr Emma CampbellLink opens in a new window is completing a project on 'Translation and Untranslatability in Medieval French Texts', which received funding from the AHRC. Emma has published a co-edited book and several articles connected to the project; the final output will be a monograph. 'Translation and Untranslatability in Medieval French Texts' considers how medieval translation might be brought into productive critical dialogue with contemporary debates in translation studies by examining how a key concept in translation theory—that of untranslatability—might inform an analysis of medieval French texts.

The Politics of Psychedelics

Professor Oliver DavisLink opens in a new window is currently working on political questions arising from the ongoing ‘psychedelic renaissance’ (the rediscovery by biomedical science, psychiatry and the wider culture of the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelic substances). Some of this work in the critical medical humanities is collaborative, with Dr Alex DymockLink opens in a new window (Goldsmiths). In the French context, Professor Davis’s research on the psychedelic renaissance in the present is also informed by analysis of the remarkable five books and one film documenting the self-experiments with mescaline and other psychoactive substances conducted by writer, visual artist and reluctant psychonaut Henri Michaux in the 1950s and 60s.

Secrets Unlocked

Prof. Ingrid De Smet is working on a monograph Secrets Unlocked: Locks, Keys, and Seals or the Instruments of Secrecy in Early Modern France. From Object to Metaphor. Stemming from foundational research conducted during a three-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2011–2014, ‘Secrets and their Keepers in Renaissance France, 1560–1620’), the book examines the conceptualization and practical implementation of secrecy and semi-secrecy versus public knowledge in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century France (and beyond). The study draws on a broad range of sources in French and Latin, from technical treatises and juridical texts to emblem books, poetry and confession manuals. It investigates the ways in which locks, keys and seals moved from quotidian and ancillary objects to metaphors and highly-charged, but also ambivalent, symbols of secrecy.

African intellectual history

Professor Pierre-Philippe Fraiture’s current research focuses on African intellectual history. Recent publications include books on VY Mudimbe (funded by the British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship), edited journals on ‘Francophone African Philosophy’ and ‘Translating African Thought and Literature’. He has been commissioned by the National Gallery of Denmark to write on ‘African Art: from Primitivism to Arts Premiers’. His latest monograph, Past Imperfect: Time and African Decolonization, 1945-1960, was published in May 2021. He has been awarded an ERC Senior Research Fellowship (2020-2025) and participates in a project entitled ‘Philosophy and Genres: Creating a Textual Basis for African Philosophy’. As part of this project, he is editing a volume of essays [to be published by Leuven UP] on the cultural legacies of the Belgian empire in the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Belgium.

French Theories of the Anthropocene

Building on previous studies, Professor Seán Hand is developing a series of related readings of interventions and implications raised by a number of French writers, including Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Philippe Descola, Bruno Latour, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Nancy, Michel Serres, Isabelle Stengers, and Bernard Stiegler, for philosophical conceptualisations associated with the Anthropocene, among them agency, becoming, death, dissemination, information, memory, residence, responsibility, technology, temporality, therapeutics, and waste.

Embodiment in European film and television after the digital revolution

The current moment is increasingly seen as one typified by the loss of connection with our bodies (as well as the Earth). Mary HarrodLink opens in a new window’s research project considers how such anxieties are negotiated by contemporary posthuman and ‘post-European’ film and television. Considering the intersection between liminal industrial positioning and narrative-aesthetic elements, it suggests that while embodied specificity (in terms of gender, sexuality and race) is apparently elided in many contemporary screen fictions, in fact this returns with a vengeance in the age of advanced digital technologies.

The Ethics of Violent Action in Political Struggle

In this project Professor Nick Hewlett engages with some major left and left-leaning thinkers whose work relates to the question of violence in pursuit of a fairer world, and whose writings have often influenced on-the-ground struggles. He considers among others the work of Marx, Engels, Sorel, Fanon, Sartre, Guevara and Benjamin, who are often seen as to offer legitimacy to the taking up of arms in the pursuit of emancipation. Others, meanwhile, such as Arendt, Gandhi, Camus and Ruddick, argue various cases against the use of violence - or at least for the strictly limited use of violence - for progressive ends.

Circulus vitiosus deus: Klossowski, Nietzsche, and the Deconstruction of Christianity

Professor Leslie Hill is currently completing a book-length study of Pierre Klossowski's dialogue with Nietzsche and Heidegger, focusing on his original reinterpretation of Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal return and on the relationship between Christianity and atheism in the writer's work, set against the backdrop of Jean-Luc Nancy's project of the deconstruction of Christianity.

Toxic masculinity and the literary establishment in contemporary France

Dr Douglas Morrey’s current research project asks how it is that, at a time of increasing public awareness of feminism and social acceptance of women’s autonomy, the French literary sphere has continued to be dominated by men expressing openly misogynistic views. Such men hold influential positions in the publishing field, and enjoy prominent media profiles as well as critical and commercal success. Combining methodologies of gender studies, close reading and the sociology of literature, the study looks at three figures who came to prominence broadly around 1968 (Philippe Sollers, Serge Doubrovsky, Gabriel Matzneff) and three from the subsequent generation who began publishing in the 1990s (Michel Houellebecq, Frédéric Beigbeder, Yann Moix). The project explores how social and political changes have shifted the latter generation’s relationship to gender and sexuality while arguing for the persistence of a core of virile misogyny that can be traced to deeper historical roots in French culture.

The Power of Play: Satire in Modern French Political Culture

Play is a dangerous political game — whether it involves a caricature in Charlie Hebdo or a revelation in the satirical Canard enchaîné. Drawing on new archival work, Dr Jessica WardhaughLink opens in a new window’s current research project explores how political play develops in France in the years 1870–1940. She is particularly interested in how play (whether verbal, visual, or physical) influences political actors in their choices and behaviour, how it adopts national, regional, and social specificities, and how it operates through strategic and symbolic borrowings across political and geographical boundaries.

Morphine in the Modern French Imagination

Dr Susannah Wilson has recently held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for a monograph project with the working title, Morphine in the Modern French Imagination: Pains, Pleasures and Pathologies. This book will be the first and only comprehensive survey of morphine and its cultural representations in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French culture. The book tackles an ambitious but carefully defined corpus of material from popular literary texts, medical treatises, the press, and judicial archives in order to offer original reflections on the French “opioid crisis” of the 1880s-1890s.