Critical and Cultural Theory

Critical and Cultural Theory

The research group in Critical and Cultural Theory represents one of the School’s latest initiatives. Preceded for some years by a critical theory reading group among staff and students from which it arose organically, the research group was established on the basis of three principles: to bring together the expansive body of staff in the School with multiple expertise in theory across the humanities; to place the University of Leeds on the international map as a centre in critical theory; and to respond to -- and advance -- pivotal discussions preoccupying the theoretical field.

Our areas of interest in critical theory are diverse and collectively expansive. Members of the group have made key research contributions to topics such as: the ‘impiety’ of Holocaust representations; postcolonial narratives, mourning and the construction of community; the futures of trauma theory; the intersections of psychoanalysis and tragedy; translating and analysing the oeuvre of French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche; Hannah Arendt, violence and vitality; expressive rationality in Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft and contemporary theory; the ‘pedagogic’ contributions of Gayatri Spivak; transsexual body narratives; photographs of atrocity, and ‘ph/autos’ of palinodic loss. One key value running through our research is interdisciplinarity; we remain strongly committed to the study of texts in the broadest definition, while working from a rigorous, theoretical interrogation of the wider intellectual, cultural and political contexts of the Humanities. Another value shared across group members is the commitment to theory as a means of bridging differing modes of representation and lived variegated experiences.

An ongoing collaborative research endeavour run by the group is entitled ‘Critical Life.’ Critical Life comprises a dedicated seminar series; visiting speaker events hosting major thinkers in Critical Theory; postgraduate research training; research grant applications and impact activity. The term ‘critical life’ is intended to evoke theoretical work that engages critically with ‘life’ and ‘the living,’ not simply as abstractions but as concepts whose theoretical vicissitudes have always played a decisive role in the regulation and delimitation of what is called ‘real’ life. Triumphalist affirmations of the ‘death of theory’ at the end of the twentieth century were, needless to say, unfounded. Not only is theory still live, but the very problem of ‘life’ and ‘the living’ has become perhaps its most pervasive and politically urgent concern. Arguably, the vitality of contemporary theory is nowhere more apparent than in contemporary theorisations – and problematisations – of the vital. By organising some of our research events under the term ‘Critical Life,’ we hope to elicit work that explores, interrogates or develops connections between theory and life in the broadest terms.

The Critical and Cultural Theory research group is also part of the Northern Theory School: a network of over twenty -- mainly British but also including some European – universities which have a geographical locus in the North. The Northern Theory School network hosts talks by leading figures in critical theory, holds regular seminar events on topics of shared or recurrent interests, and runs training events for postgraduate research students in the field. Many of these take place at Leeds and form additional seminar contexts for our current postgraduate research students.

Our PhD supervision expertise covers a broad terrain of work in, or engaging with, critical theory. We offer supervision expertise in the following: psychoanalysis; Frankfurt School critical theory; the relations between the philosophy of the enlightenment and modernity; trauma studies and cultural memory, particularly in relation to Holocaust, Black Atlantic, Postcolonial and Diasporic studies; affect and animal studies; suffering and its representations in visual culture; film and television studies; deconstruction; and the study of gender and sexuality.

Our current or recently-graduated research students have been working on the following PhD thesis topics:

  • Images of Jesus in Contemporary Fiction
  • The presence of the Holocaust in contemporary English poetry
  • Kynical Cosmopolitanism in Beckett, Borges and Coetzee 
  • Breaking the Silence of a forgotten army: Prisoner of war memoirs from the Sumatra railway (funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, with the Imperial War Museum)
  • Undeath and 'bare life': the politics of the contemporary Gothic (AHRC funded)
  • Postcards from Exile: Exile and Writing in Early Modern Literature
  • Hilary Mantel’s Poetics of Haunting
  • Trans clinical-autobiographical negotiations (funded by Leeds University Scholarship)
  • Animism and Trauma in African Conflict Narratives
  • Laplanche, Kristeva, Lyotard: Towards an Alinguistic Unconscious (funded by Leeds International Research Scholarship)

For further information on our research interests, or to make an inquiry, please see our individual staff profile pages:

Dr Matt Boswell -

Dr Sam Durrant -

Dr Jay Prosser -

Dr Nicholas Ray-

Dr Simon Swift -