English Seminar: Decolonizing the University – School of Literature, Art and Media English Seminar: Decolonizing the University – School of Literature, Art and Media

English Seminar: Decolonizing the University

Paul Giles: ‘Decolonizing the University’


This paper grows out of a contribution I have been asked to make to a CUP collection of essays entitled Decolonizing the English Literary Curriculum, edited by Ato Quayson and Ankhi Mukherjee. It will consider how universities are always positioned in relation to different systems of power, governance and funding, and how all of these factors affect the forms of knowledge they produce, both in research work and the teaching curriculum. Drawing on academic experience across three continents—Europe, North America and Australia—I will suggest ways in which knowledge transfer is linked inextricably but often indirectly to pedagogical and philosophical assumptions that are rarely made explicit. While the Black Lives Matter movement sought specifically to “decolonize” the curriculum, such controversies have an extensive prehistory, going back to the “culture wars” in the USA during the late 1980s and, long before that, to the inclusion of American Literature itself within the university curriculum, a status that was controversial at least until World War II. By examining the cultural work that the tertiary teaching of English has performed in various times and places across the world, it will be easier to recognize the ideological forces and power plays involved in supporting (or contesting) it. One key area for this analysis will be the contradiction between state agencies that seek to support education for instrumental or economic purposes, and the goals of a broader intellectual agenda in which any idea of an autonomous nation state appears problematic. Hence this paper will probe potential incompatibilities between the universalism implied etymologically by the term university, and the local interests that a particular university is often charged to represent. Such tensions, which can be traced back to the founding days of European universities in the twelfth century, have been brought back into sharp focus by recent current events concerned with representations of race and gender, and the paper will conclude by reflecting on the larger function of a university curriculum in English studies after the postcolonial turn. (The final essay itself is due by 31 October, so observations and suggestions would be very welcome.)

Paul Giles is Challis Professor of English at the University of Sydney. His most recent book is The Planetary Clock: Antipodean Time and Spherical Postmodern Fictions (OUP, 2021).


This event will be held online via Zoom.

Contact: Liam Semler (liam.semler@sydney.edu.au).


Upcoming English Department seminars Semester 2 2021


20 Oct


Nathalie Camerlynck, ‘Raymond Federman and Samuel Beckett, or “What the fuck am I doing here in this life?”’



10 Nov


Lynda Ng, ‘Climate justice, world literature and Alexis Wright’



Oct 13 2021


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

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