Islands, camps, zones: towards a nissological reading of Georges Perec

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I’m currently writing a chapter for a book on Perec (which will be published in 2019) that presents a nissological reading of Perec’s work.

Nissology, a term coined by Grant McCall in 1996, derives from the Greek nisos (island) and describes the interdisciplinary theory of islands and islandness. My chapter takes as its starting point three case studies from the Perecquian corpus: the imaginary island of W (which appears in W, ou le souvenir d’enfance, the semi-autobiographical text that was first published in 1975) and which functions as an allegory of the Nazi concentration camps; Ellis Island (the US migrant inspection centre that is the subject of Perec and Robert Bober’s 1980 film, Récits d’Ellis Island); and the Parisian îlots insalubres (usually translated as ‘unhealthy zones’, but more literally, small islands – or islets – of insalubrity) that dominated French planning discourse from the late nineteenth century right through the 4th Republic (there is still mention of ‘tubercular islands’ in planning documents dated 1956), and in one of which la rue Vilin (where Perec was born and which features in L’Infra-ordinaire, W and the unfinished Lieux project) was situated. The main thrust of the argument is that around these major islands, and through a series of textual and historical allusions, Perec constellates a broader carceral archipelago, made up of dispersed yet interconnected island territories that are located in multiple space-times. This nissological reading – which also draws in some of Perec’s many references to other insular places (including Madagascar, Tierra del Fuego, Pulau Bidong and Jules Verne’s imaginary Lincoln Island) suggests that Perec is concerned less with individual islands (or specific insular regimes) than with the ways in which island topographies are produced as networked sites in which sovereign power and bio-politics intersect. Finally, my chapter explores the ways in which Perec’s archipelagic topographies, when understood relationally, in both spatial and temporal terms, can be seen to speak both to the complex and extended networks of power that subtend the organization of the modern world, but also the ongoing (and performative) manifestations of the past in what Derek Gregory (2004) has insightfully described as the colonial present.

Railway Cultures

In January 2018, and in collaboration with the National Railway Museum in York, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Sheffield launched the Railway Cultures Project. The outcomes include 2 books (more on which later) and a conference, which will take place on April 19-20. The conference – Museums in Context and Partnership – will be free to attend and we’ll be publishing the final programme next week, at which point you’ll also be able to reserve a place. We do hope you’ll be able to join us for what promises to be a fantastic day!

Remembering Barberousse: The Construction of National Memory and State Power in Algeria

I’m currently writing an article on Barberousse, an infamous colonial prison built by the French in Algiers in 1856 and which, after three years of closure in the immediate post-Independence era, was re-opened by President Boumédiène in 1965, under the new name Serkadji.


On March 19th 2014, the day of the 52nd anniversary of the implementation of the Évian Accords, the Algerian Minister of Justice, Tayeb Louh, along with a delegation that included the Minister for Culture, Nadia Labidi, made a high-profile visit to Serkadji prison, which had recently been closed and its inmates transferred to other prisons across Algeria. A press announcement in December 2013 had already informed the Algerian public that the prison was going to be transformed into a museum dedicated to the national memory. The Minister’s statement to the media on March 19th – ‘‘Aujourd’hui, ce lieu historique redevient un lieu de recueillement et de mémoire’ (‘Today, this historic site becomes once again a site of contemplation and memory’) – was referring, however, not to Serkadji’s more recent history, but to the time when the prison was known as Barberousse – a renowned colonial penal insitution built by the French in 1856 and in which, during the war of independence, many FLN mujahidin were incarcerated and guillotined. In this article, the first substantial and holistic account of the discursive construction of Barberousse in cultural and political discourse, I will explore this most recent, but also other instances in which the prison has been deployed and harnessed as an emblem of repression and resistance, colonialism and the struggle for independence. I will begin with an overview of the what I identify as the key stakes in the quite extensive representation of Barberousse in cultural production, focusing both on the accounts provided by films, memoirs and novels (by Henri Alleg, Assia Djebar, Gillo Pontecorvo, Leila Djabili and Mohamed Saharoui) of the violence and abjection that constituted daily life intra muros, while highlighting also the prison’s becoming-symbol of the bloody birth of the independent Algerian state. In the second part, I will discuss the insoluble link between the prison and the (construction of the) nation state. Closed in 1962 by President Ahmed Ben Bella, who designated the prison an historic site and intended to turn it into a museum honouring the memory of the FLN, it was reopened in 1965, under its new name, Serkadji, by Houari Boumédiène, who – along with his successor, Chadli Bendjedid – used it to detain dissidents and political prisoners, as well as common law criminals. Thus, the prison became a means in the post-Independence era of shoring up the power of an increasingly contested regime. I will conclude with a reflection on the ways in which the museum now proposed by the Algerian state not only consolidates authorised histories, but also serves to erase others, including the massacre of 96 prisoners by state forces within the walls of Serkadji in February 1995.

Space/place creative writing group

If you are writing about space and place in your work (whether it’s narrative non-fiction, poetry, short stories or novels), you might be interested in this new creative writing group.

Come along and share your work, hear others read theirs and get feedback on your latest writing projects.

The first meeting is on Thursday June 15th, 7-9pm at Bank Street Arts.

All welcome!

Please email Amanda ( if you’d like more information, but otherwise you’re welcome to turn up on the day, without the need to reserve a place.

Please note there will be a donation box, with all proceeds going to Bank Street Arts.


Art + Copyright / Copyleft – a symposium

Here’s the programme for the symposium on art, copyright and copyleft that will take place at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield, on June 16th. There will also be an exhibition of works by Bryan Eccleshall. All proceeds from the event will go to Bank Street Arts. £10 entrance fee, including light lunch and refreshments.

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Representing Migration

I’ve recently received the excellent news that I was successful in a funding bid to the SURE Network scheme to employ 6 University of Sheffield students to work as researchers over the summer on a project that will be led by myself, Sophie Watt (SLC, University of Sheffield) and Casey Strine (SIIBS, University of Sheffield). The project is about how migration, migrants and refugees are represented in the media and contemporary art.

The outcomes of the research will be an article and a short film about the project. In the longer term, we also hope to bring an exhibition of work by Francophone artists to Sheffield, which will explore the ways in which artists have sought to challenge some of the dominant tropes vehicled in press photography around the question of displaced peoples.

Representing migration logoSUMMARY OF RESEARCH PROJECT

This research will explore how images of migrants and refugees shape public understanding and opinions of migration. Discourses around the threat posed by migrants and refugees to security, order, national identity and integrity have clearly impacted on the contemporary political landscape (for example Brexit, Trump’s election victory and the rise of populism and ethno-nationalism in Europe). As many scholars have observed, the media play a key role in both conveying and legitimising these political messages about migration. Less attention has been paid, however, to the specifically visual representation of displaced peoples and the impact this has on the public perception of migration – a gap this research will seek to address.
The criminalization and discursive ‘othering’ of migrants and refugees by the mainstream media has been the subject of rigorous and insightful academic research (Ibrahim & Howarth, 2015; Philo, Briant & Donald, 2013). In the field of visual studies, scholars working on so-called ‘atrocity photography’ have dwelled at length on matters such as the ethics of representing vulnerable subjects, the risks of voyeurism, the commoditisation of suffering, the ‘victimal aesthetic’ and what Sontag (1977) called ‘compassion fatigue’. Scholars from the visual arts (such as T.J. Demos [2013]) have explored how artists have challenged standardised visual constructions of migrants and refugees in their practice. The proposed interdisciplinary research project is among the first, however, to draw together insights from these various – yet intrinsically connected – areas of scholarship in order to think more closely about the ways in which migrants and refugees are constructed in visual media, and how these representations impact on opinion and understanding.
In the first instance, the research will identify recurring and dominant tropes in the representation of migrants and refugees. It will examine the use of formal, symbolic and paratextual elements in the visual construction of migrants and refugees, paying attention also to the ways in which the ‘figure of the migrant’ (Nail, 2015) is variously set in – or extracted from – the contexts of migration (such as environmental change, violence and conflict, human rights violations or deleterious socio-political and economic conditions). Techniques of image and discourse analysis will be used to better understand how images of refugees and migrants might solicit certain responses in viewers. We will also consider the ways in which artists have sought to both denaturalise and contest the political and affective viewer responses prompted by hegemonic visual discourse.
An analysis of the visual construction of displaced people in these images will be complemented by empirical research. Students will work with a focus group (including artists) to draw out their responses to – and reflections on – news photographs and selected artworks. Students will also seek to determine to what extent alternative images of migration (or self-representations by artists who are migrants/refugees) might mitigate or change participants’ responses to the dominant tropes afforded by press photography.

Art + Copyright/Copyleft : A Symposium and Exhibition

Call for papers

A symposium: Art+Copyright/Copyleft

June 16th 2017 at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield

11am – 4pm

Confirmed Keynote Speakers: 

Richard Taylor, Lawyer and partner at DLA Piper LLP, specialist in Intellectual Property

Professor Robert Burrell, Head of School of Law, University of Sheffield

There will also be an exhibition of works by  Bryan Eccleshall, June 16th (including private view in the evening) – June 17th 2017.

You can listen to Richard Taylor’s recent programme on BBC Radio 4, Copyright or Wrong? (including an interview with Bryan Eccleshall) here.

occursus and Bank Street Arts are pleased to invite proposals for 20-minute contributions (including, but not limited to, papers, presentations and readings) that reflect critically on the issues and practicalities of copyright and copyleft, with particular reference to the arts (broadly interpreted).

Abstracts (300 words maximum) for 20-minute papers or presentations and a short biography (100 words maximum) should be sent to Amanda Crawley Jackson ( by May 15th 2017. Decisions will be announced in mid-May.

To reserve a place at the conference, please email Amanda Crawley Jackson ( Please note that there will be an attendance fee of £10, to include a light lunch and afternoon refreshments (tea, coffee, biscuits).  Attendance fees will be donated to Bank Street Arts.

Should you wish to purchase one of the works exhibited by Bryan Eccleshall on June 16th-17th, please note that 50% of the sale price will be donated to Bank Street Arts. Furthermore, should Bryan sell his recent work, After Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, in the course of this selling show, he will be donating 100% of the sale price to Bank Street Arts.  A catalogue of the exhibition, including prices, will be made available before and during the exhibition.

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