I am keen to supervise PhD and MA theses as well as postdoctoral research projects in the fields of contemporary global Anglophone literature; twentieth-century British fiction; trauma, memory, and Holocaust studies; postcolonial studies; and ecocriticism and environmental humanities.

PhD and postdoctoral research projects currently or recently supervised:

  • Climate Impiety: Beyond Post-Apocalyptic Climate Change Fiction

    Mahlu Mertens, BOF, 2017-2021

    Mahlu Mertens’s PhD project explores how climate change literature that resists the typical form of the climate dystopia may provide alternative ways of narrating anthropogenic climate change that are more apt to represent this multi-faceted and far-reaching phenomenon. In the twenty-first century there has been an explosive growth of so-called cli-fi, especially in the Anglophone world. Most such works are novels that dramatize the phenomenon by sketching a post-apocalyptic, ecological dystopia. Indeed, there seems to have emerged a standard narrative pattern. This prototypical form, however, ultimately sidesteps the problem of truly imagining the complexity and gigantic temporal and spatial scales of climate change, because it simplifies and compresses it to make it containable on a human scale. This project therefore analyses four categories of works that all break with one of the characteristics of this prototypical climate fiction: works set in the present, works that span a large time period, comical climate literature, and climate change denial literature. Inspired by novelist Amitav Ghosh’s remark that novels might be less suited to deal with climate change than other genres, it also analyses plays, poems, and comics. The overall aim is to provide insight into a more diverse arsenal of literary strategies for depicting climate change than those on which most critical energy has been expended so far, and thereby to enrich the toolkit of resources for effective climate change communication.

  • Contextualizing ``Weird`` Fiction vis-à-vis Broader Discussions on the Anthropocene

    Gry Ulstein, ERC, 2017-2021; co-supervisor with Prof. Dr. Marco Caracciolo and Prof. Dr. Merja Polvinen

    Gry Ulstein‘s PhD research focuses on “weird” fiction, comparing earlier (H. P. Lovecraft) and more recent forms of weird (Jeff VanderMeer) and investigating the weird’s ecocritical potential as “catastrophic fiction.”

  • Children in European Comics from 1938 to Today: Constructions, Functions, and Transformations

    Dr. Maaheen Ahmed, FWO, 2017-2020; with Prof. Dr. Jan Baetens; terminated in 2018 to accept ERC Starting Grant

    Maaheen Ahmed‘s second postdoctoral project at Ghent University examines children in comics in order to show how they reflect changing conceptualizations of childhood over time and across cultures while also channelling adult anxieties and questioning social order and categories. Focusing on popular works from four major hubs of European comics productions – Belgium, France, Britain, and Germany – the project takes as its starting point the boom in comics production in the late 1930s and traces the representation of children in long-running, understudied comics magazines such as The Beano and Spirou as well as contemporary graphic novels. It analyses, contextualizes, and compares the representation of the child in these works in order to gain insight into the collective consciousness and its transformations as filtered through the child and the notion of childishness.

  • Trauma and Postcolonial Realism in the Anthropocene: Mapping an Ecology of Speculative Media from Baudelaire to Musical and Digital Poetics

    Sean Matharoo, University of California, Riverside, 2013-2019; Fulbright / Ghent University US Student Award, 2017-2018

    Sean Matharoo‘s PhD research is situated within debates about the Anthropocene, a historical epoch characterized by humankind’s adverse impact on the planet due to the exploitation of land, water, animals, and fossil fuels. A recent wave of scholarship in the humanities has been devoted to ongoing ecological crises wrought by collective human action, such as climate change and mass species extinction. Unfortunately, by universalizing human experience, this discourse about the Anthropocene neglects histories of global human inequality, as evidenced by the environmental effects of Western industrialization and colonial expansion. These histories remind us of the importance of recognizing cultural difference—in particular, the responsibility of the West for ecological destruction—as we work towards an ethics of environmental justice.

    During his residency at the Cultural Memory Studies Initiative, Sean will begin to develop a critical “ecology” of Anglophone and Francophone speculative media, starting with a reappraisal of the French Surrealists’ experimental poetics. Though many Surrealists expressed support for decolonization in their subversive works, their fetishization of African cultures contributed to the West’s homogenization of distinct African poetics. Sean’s project culminates with an analysis of new musical and digital media that use experimental poetics to highlight histories of colonial expropriation and oppression. Such media, he argues, reclaim the subversive potentials of Surrealism, but enable encounters between different postcolonial traumas that respect cultural boundaries. His project’s ultimate goal is to develop a “postcolonial realism” committed to recognizing the unequal legacies of imperialism, including immigrant experiences, even as we struggle with the harmful geophysical impacts of global human action.

  • (Fallout) Shelter in Climate Change Fiction

    River Ramuglia, FWO, 2016-2020; with Prof. Dr. Pieter Vermeulen

    River Ramuglia‘s PhD project researches the metaphor, symbol, and theme of shelter as it is deployed in contemporary climate change fiction and ecocriticism, as historicized by the cultural proliferation of the fallout shelter during the Cold War.

  • Intergenerational Trauma in Jagersfontein

    Lerato Machetela, Stellenbosch University, 2016-2019; Erasmus Mundus Action 2 INSPIRE, 2016-2017; co-supervisor with Prof. Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

    Lerato Machetela’s PhD research stems from her work as a clinical psychologist in Jagersfontein, South Africa. In her study, she highlights the usefulness of broadening the conceptualization of trauma to include how trauma manifests in contexts where it is not only “post” but is continuous and presents itself through everyday lived trauma related to issues such as living under conditions of humiliation and depravity. Moreover, through her study, she seeks to explore how we can understand the concept of transgenerational and intergenerational trauma in a context like South Africa, where the third generation is exposed to extreme conditions that are tantamount to the traumatic experience of the second and first generations.

  • Drone Fiction: Virtual Killing, Virtuous War, and Trauma

    Dr. Tobi Smethurst, FWO, 2016; with Prof. Dr. Pieter Vermeulen

    Tobi Smethurst’s postdoctoral project examines the figure of the drone (also known as UAV or unmanned aerial vehicle) in contemporary fiction, art, and film. More specifically, it explores how contemporary media about drone warfare represent the unique perspectives offered to pilots by military drones, which are able to hover above a target for upwards of 30 hours before striking; the psychological effect on drone pilots of killing from a great distance, after becoming intimately familiar with a target; the traumatic impact of living under constant drone surveillance and the threat of unpredictable, catastrophic attacks; and the role of the drone as a magic bullet for military strategists, that is, as an emblem of virtuous war, a decidedly new type of low-risk, high-tech warfare built around surveillance and surgical strikes.

  • Across Generations and Genres: The Legacy of the Holocaust in Dutch-Jewish Literature

    Lisa Vanlancker, BOF, 2015-2019; co-supervisor with Prof. Dr. Jürgen Pieters; terminated in 2017

    Lisa Vanlancker’s PhD project focuses on a corpus of literary texts about the Holocaust written by members of three successive generations from three different Dutch-Jewish families. It aims to understand how the historical trauma that is at the core of their writings has been represented and given meaning. As trauma takes on different shapes for each generation, it appears in different generic configurations: while first-generation writing primarily uses autobiographical genres such as the diary, memoir, or letter, second- and third-generation writers increasingly turn to fictional and often experimental modes of representation. By analysing a differentiated body of texts, ranging from first- to third-generation writing and covering a wide array of genres, this project examines the different ways in which texts by these Dutch-Jewish authors participate in and contribute to a culture of remembrance.

  • Historicizing Post-9/11 American Literature and Criticism through Biopolitics and a Genealogy of Statelessness

    Holly Brown, BOF, 2015-2018

    Holly Brown‘s PhD project demonstrates how a genealogy of statelessness can be used as a framework to consider previously unexplored links between pre- and post-9/11 American literature. Analysing the way in which literature has responded to the suspension of civil rights by the American government in the post-9/11 era, her research seeks to expose the enduring significance of “bare life” within American culture. She connects the wandering and negated male protagonist of the 9/11 canon, most famously articulated through the protagonists in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, to earlier representations of figures who have been stripped of their political rights in order to explore a longer history of the interrogation of democratic ideals in the American context.

  • Conjuring Phantoms: A Comparative Study of Trauma in Comics

    Dr. Maaheen Ahmed, FWO, 2014-2017; with Prof. Dr. Jan Baetens

    Maaheen Ahmed‘s first postdoctoral project at Ghent University is on trauma in contemporary comics, relying on a broad definition of trauma to encompass the aftermath of large-scale events (the two world wars, 9/11) as well as the reverberations of psychological damage in difficult personal situations.

  • Expanding the Notion of Trauma Narration in Applied Theatre: A Post-Narrative and Postdramatic Inquiry into Trauma Reconstruction in Performance in Post-Transition South Africa

    Sofie de Smet, NRF-FWO, 2014-2017; co-supervisor with Prof. Dr. Christel Stalpaert and Prof. Dr. Lucia De Haene; terminated in 2015 to accept BOF PhD scholarship

    At the heart of Sofie de Smet‘s PhD research lies the blurring of the clear linearity between narration and trauma recovery, which forms the topic of emerging theoretical developments in both transcultural trauma psychology and theatre studies. Both fields display emerging theoretical developments that question how this dominant western trauma paradigm is underpinned by the assumption of a linear relationship between trauma narration and recovery in which retelling traumatic experiences directly leads to healing. Sofie focuses on these debates that analogously develop within the fields of transcultural trauma psychology and theatre studies, raising questions about the validity of the dominant paradigm. More specifically, her study aims at furthering the post-narrative paradigm shift in both fields through an empirical analysis of post-narrative modes of trauma recovery in applied theatre. By combining analytical approaches from both transcultural trauma psychology and theatre studies, the study aims to further the understanding of trauma recovery shaped by modes of coping beyond narration.

  • Sights of Memory: Imagetext and Materiality in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, Wopko Jensma, and Derek Walcott

    Maria Zirra, joint PhD Stockholm University – UGent, 2013-2018; co-supervisor with Prof. Dr. Stefan Helgesson and Prof. Dr. Bo Ekelund

    Maria Zirra’s PhD project investigates the ways in which the poetry of Wopko Jensma, Seamus Heaney, and Derek Walcott thematizes the visuality and materiality of cultural memory practices employed to articulate de- and postcolonial problems. It argues that an inherently intermedial construction of cultural memory and an insistence on the material dimensions of archival practices are salient traits in the poetic responses that make up the corpus. The poets in question variously deal with the aftermath of decolonization: finding a role for poetry under violent civil strife (Heaney, Jensma), understanding cultural mechanisms and complicities during late apartheid (Jensma), or crafting reparative readings of (art) history that dismantle prescriptive colonial lenses on the past (Jensma, Walcott). Owing to the multidirectional poetic renderings of art and print histories in the volumes, the intermedial memories tapped into by the three poets draw on transnational comparisons and distinct cultural spaces acting as screens for making sense of the present and past, and tracing criss-crossing paths of influence and circulation. These poetic texts are simultaneously yoked to local groups and other material constraints such as specialized audiences and more restricted material circulation. The insistent materialities of these poetic texts provide a kind of rooted literary memory space showcasing limits of transnationalism and the importance of archival inquiry into memory formation.

  • Conjuguer la Shoah au présent. Représentation et incarnation de la mémoire du génocide juif dans la littérature contemporaine

    Dr. Evelyne Ledoux-Beaugrand, SSHRC, 2012-2014

    Evelyne Ledoux-Beaugrand‘s postdoctoral project focuses on representations of Holocaust memory by authors of the second and third generations, and examines more precisely how the body serves as a vector for memories of the genocide in postmemorial narratives.

  • Dave Eggers and Human Rights Culture

    Sean Bex, FWO, 2012-2016; with Prof. Dr. Pieter Vermeulen

    Sean Bex’s PhD project explores the intersections of cultural memory and human rights through the lens of the oeuvre of the American author Dave Eggers. At the core of this research lies a two-pronged hypothesis. Firstly, that literary representations of traumatic memories in works such as Eggers’s What Is the What (2006) and Zeitoun (2009) can provide historical grounding for abstract human-rights discourses. Secondly, that human-rights discourse can in turn help memories to be articulated within a political and institutional framework. Additionally, Sean examines the ethical problems and questions arising from the literary form of Eggers’s recent works, which are conceived as collaborative testimonies in which a successful white, male, American author and a disadvantaged person of colour join forces in bearing witness to the latter’s traumatic past.

    Recipient of the 2017 Max van der Stoel Human Rights Award for best doctoral dissertation (second prize)

  • Independent Publishing, Social Activism, and the Ethics of ``Selling Out``: The Case of Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern

    Dr. Katrien Bollen, FWO, 2012; with Prof. Dr. Pieter Vermeulen

    What is the socio-political effectiveness of literary magazines in our globalized and digital age in which all cultural artifacts can be considered commodities, and mobilizing citizens against the status quo seems to have become the prerogative of the social media, as recent phenomena such as the Occupy Movement or the Arab Spring illustrate? Katrien Bollen’s postdoctoral project examines the relation between ethics and aesthetics through a case study of the highly influential yet curiously understudied literary magazine Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (˚1998), founded and edited by American author and social activist Dave Eggers. In addition to opening up McSweeney’s for scholarly research, the project combines an analysis of the magazine’s content with an examination of what Genette has termed paratextual elements (e.g., cover design and blurbs) and epitexts (e.g., book reviews and media coverage). Against the backdrop of periodical studies as well as recent theories of independent publishing, commodification, and social activism – including Žižek’s category of “liberal communists,” rich entrepreneurs who, like Bill Gates or U2 frontman Bono, redirect part of their proceeds to non-profit organizations – this project tests the hypothesis that independent publishing methods and values are potentially instrumental to the cause of social justice.

  • Trauma beyond the Biomedical Paradigm: Avenues for a Subject-Oriented and Contextual Trauma Approach

    Gregory Bistoen, BOF, 2011-2015; co-supervisor with Prof. Dr. Stijn Vanheule

    In recent years the hegemonic, biomedical approach to psychic trauma, which focuses on the individual and is based on a mechanical idea of trauma, has been strongly criticized. This project aims to develop an alternative approach that is both subject-oriented and contextual. Possibilities and implications of this alternative approach will be explored.

  • Intersecting Memories: The Representation of the Holocaust and State Violence in (Post-)Yugoslav Literature

    Dr. Stijn Vervaet, FWO, 2011-2014

    Stijn Vervaet’s postdoctoral project focuses on the representation of the Holocaust in the work of Yugoslav authors of different generations and investigates how the memory of the Holocaust is constructed, transmitted, and evoked in relation to the representation of other instances of extreme state violence, such as during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Exploring how Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian fiction constructs and transmits memories of the Holocaust and examining how these memories intersect with other histories of suffering in the region, he seeks to contribute to the debate about the workings of trauma and memory, and about the aesthetic and ethical aspects of the intergenerational transmission of traumatic memory.

  • Playing with Trauma in Video Games: Interreactivity, Empathy, Perpetration

    Tobi Smethurst, BOF, 2011-2015

    Tobi Smethurst’s PhD thesis investigates the under-theorized potential of video games to represent psychological trauma in ways that “traditional” trauma-fiction media such as novels, films, or autobiographies cannot. It argues that, because of the inter(re)activity which is unique to the video game medium, games are able to present a variety of ways of making the player identify and/or empathize with protagonists and, through them, to virtually experience traumatized perspectives or perpetrate traumatizing acts. The thesis conducts a series of close readings of games (The Walking DeadLimboSpec Ops: The Line, and others) that integrate trauma aesthetically and mechanically; that is, both visually/sonically/thematically and on the level of the rules which govern the experience of actually playing and progressing through the game.