Workshop on Comparative Literature and Decoloniality, in partnership with the BCLA

There is a constitutive relationship between conceptions of world literature and comparative literature and colonialism. Both fields and their attendant methodologies emerged within the imperial/colonial context and made use of it as a scale, an ambition, and material condition. They were globalising from the start, linked to a global market of knowledge and the globalisation of institutions of literature within an imperial frame dominated by colonial powers. The latter has given the fields their vocabulary, but also lent them their scales, means and perceptions. The movement of writers and literatures, exchange and collection of foreign books, the learning of languages, translation, the idea of a museum of literature or the pantheon of world great books, etc., testify to this global ambition. In the nineteenth century what Goethe saw as a world marketplace of ideas governed by a romantic vision, Marx attributed to the expanding capital and market economy. In terms of practice comparative literature has been taught usually in departments of dominant languages (or housed within them: English for world literature, European languages and English for comparative literature). Comparison was done within, and starting from, these literatures and languages.

This pattern has not changed in any significant way. What has changed has been the widening of the net of languages and literatures. This wider reach has benefited in part from Area Studies and been affected by them. Yet, it is here where we can detect lines of demarcation, resistance and rethinking. The dominant terms of comparison have come under critical scrutiny, new terms and vocabularies have found their way to comparative practice. The scales have changed (multilingual locals, Orsini, e.g.). This is indicative of how comparative literature has been a site of contestation of colonial hegemony, colonial exception, and colonial power relations.

The workshop was an opportunity to go beyond local concerns. Thinking of the decolonial through the perspective of multilingual encounters is essential, and it is essential we include Translation Studies within that discussion. The pragmatic preference for the “Global Anglophone”, and the perception that it is much cheaper to train students in it for linguistic reasons, unlike methodological paradigms from other areas, will be scrutinised. A key element of decolonial practice hinges on the place of foreign languages in world and comparative literature and on comparative practices located outside the dominant Anglo-European spheres.

The workshop was structured around two panels of invited scholars draws from a wide range of education systems, language environments, and epistemological perspectives, who presented position papers, which were, in turn, responded to by the audience. The position papers explored the nexus between decoloniality and the decolonial and comparative and world literature through six main themes: peoples; spaces and scales; languages; disciplines; pedagogies; knowledges.

This workshop was hosted by the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre in collaboration with the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA).

This event required registration. Please register via Eventbrite, here. This workshop had limited spaces and was open to anyone who is interested in decoloniality and the decolonial, comparative and world literature.

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15:00–15:15 | Welcome and Registration

15:15–16:15 | Panel 1
Chair: Josh Robinson (Cardiff University)

‘People Making History’
Tinashe Muskavanhu (University of Oxford)

‘The Shapes of Knowing: The Global, the Provincial, the Colonial and the Classical’
Marchella Ward (The Open University)

‘José da Silva Coelho? Portuguese, Indian or Portuguese-Indian?’
Paul Melo e Castro (University of Glasgow)


16:15–16:30 | Coffee Break

16:30–17:30 | Panel 2
Chair: Rosa Mucignat (Kings College London)

‘Decoloniality and the Scalar Imagination’
Joseph Hankinson (University of Oxford)

‘Pedagogies of Hope and Despair: Building the AFRIUNI Project’
Ruth Bush (University of Bristol)

‘Towards an Anticolonial Comparative Method’
Anna Bernard (Kings College London)


17:30–18:00 | General Discussion
Chair: Mohamed-Salah Omri (University of Oxford)

Anna Bernard is Reader in Comparative Literature and English at King’s College London. She is the author of Decolonizing Literature (2023) and Rhetorics of Belonging: Nation, Narration, and Israel/Palestine (2013). She has published widely on solidarity and decolonization aesthetics, cultural activism, and Palestinian and Israeli writing. She is currently working on a book called International Solidarity and Culture: Nicaragua, South Africa, Palestine, 1975-1990.

Ruth Bush is Associate Professor in African and French Cultural Studies at the University of Bristol. Her research concerns literary and cultural production, with a particular interest in material print cultures, translation, gender and institutions. Her most recent publication is Translation Imperatives: African Literature and the Labour of Translators (CUP Elements, 2022). She currently convenes an ERC-funded project, ‘Creative Lives of African Universities’, about representations and lived experiences of universities in four multilingual, historically francophone, African cities (Dakar, Abidjan, Abomey-Calavi and Yaounde).

Joseph Hankinson is Career Development Lecturer in English at Jesus College, Oxford and Stipendiary Lecturer in English at The Queen’s College, Oxford. He is a member of the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre’s Organising Committee and co-convenor of the ‘Comparative African Literatures’ research strand. He is the author of Kojo Laing, Robert Browning and Affiliative Literature: Relational Worlds (2023) and his research has been published in journals including Victorian Literature and Culture, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, and Essays in Criticism.

Paul Melo e Castro is Lecturer in Portuguese and Comparative Literature at the University of Glasgow. He has worked extensively on Portuguese-language writing from the former Portuguese India and is a regular literary translator. His most recent translations include Life Stories: The Collected Stories of Maria Elsa da Rocha (Goa 1556, 2023) and Vimala Devi’s Monsoon (Seagull Books, 2020).

Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a Junior Research Fellow in African and Comparative Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford, and a member of the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre. The central theme of his research is the role of literary culture in documentation, historical knowledge, and political power. He is the author of Reincarnating Marechera: Notes on a Speculative Archive (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020), Ndabaningi Sithole: A Forgotten Founding Father (HSRC Press, 2023), and A Brief History of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press).

Marchella Ward (Chella) is Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University. She was the Tinsley Outreach Fellow at Worcester College Oxford, where she split her time equally between postdoctoral research in classical reception studies and work to dismantle the inequities and biases that structure unequal access to Higher Education. She co-convenes (with Mathura Umachandran) the Critical Ancient World Studies research group, a global collective of early career scholars whose goal is to disentangle the colonial from the classical and imagine more liberatory ways of studying the ancient world. Her writing has appeared in the Classical Receptions Journal, the Classical Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, among others.