Institute of English Studies Blog |

Interview: Emily Cousens on The London Free School of Applied Critical and Feminist Theory


  1. Could you please write a few sentences introducing yourself and your work?

 My name is Emily and I am a third-year PhD student in Philosophy, looking at what the concept of vulnerability means for feminism. I am particularly interested in how the discourse on vulnerability within feminist thought has evolved in recent years, with the term frequently being used to denote a common corporeal susceptibility to being affected. In my thesis, I explore the implications of such a reconceptualization for a politics of sexual violence; arguing that the impulse to universalise vulnerability frequently obscures and may leave unchallenged the structures that distribute vulnerability along classed, racialized, gendered and sexualised lines.


  1. What is the London Free School of Applied Critical and Feminist Theory?


The London Free School of Applied Critical and Feminist theory is a week-long course that brings together academics, activists and students to discuss a range of ideas, issues and events loosely based around the four themes for the week: Decolonising the Present, Living a Sexed Life, Representing Gender and Sexuality and Theory in Practice.


The Free School is ‘applied’ with the intention being that academics will use theory to speak about practices and events. I see application in this way as a central tent of these disciplines and something that underscores their political potential. Moreover, such a focus will ensure that everyone is encouraged to use theory for illuminatory and dialogic possibilities rather than merely presenting their most recent piece of work.


Over the week, the class of fifteen students will participate in learning in alongside the academics and from one another. The size and layout of the week, as a class of equals, will ensure that learning is reciprocal and everyone is engaged. Each day will end with four students delivering a workshop on the day’s theme. The format of these are up to the students but will likely involve them presenting their own responses to the theme and the day’s discussion and guiding the final explorations of the subject.



  1. What inspired you to set up the summer school?


My inspiration for the summer school was twofold. Firstly, I love learning with others. I think that postgraduate study and academia generally can be slightly isolating and so I relish any opportunity to come together with peers to discuss ideas and push and challenge one’s own and each other’s thoughts. So, slightly selfishly, I wanted to create the academic environment that I had always hoped to find. I also think this method of learning with others is particularly pertinent to feminist and critical theory, where knowledge is generated through experience.


Second and related, I felt that there were few existing spaces for such learning. Events of this nature are frequently governed by the market logics of higher education: high fees, large numbers of students and the cult of celebrity. I think that these are all impediments to inclusive learning and undermine the political and truly critical potential of these disciplines.


  1. What do you hope the summer school will achieve?


My intention is to foster a space in which students and academics can engage in discussion and debate, harnessing the potential of these disciplines whilst escaping the constraints and imperatives of institutionalised academia.


  1. What advice would you give to applicants?


Firstly, if you have read this and any of it appeals to you then please apply. The school is open to anyone with an undergraduate degree; regardless of discipline or any of the traditional markers of academic distinction.


As you apply, try to work out exactly what it is that appeals to you about the week and do your best to convey that in the application. Also, what is it that attracts you to feminist theory and/or critical theory? Engagement with these subjects often stems from quite a personal place so feel free (but by no means obliged) to be open about your own relationship with these disciplines.


Finally, what would you like the week to look like? There are still opportunities to shape how it runs; from how the student-run workshops operate to what happens when the day has formally ended. I hope to facilitate a friendly and supportive community of students and would like your thoughts on how this can be achieved.


To find out more about The London Free School of Applied Critical and Feminist Theory and to apply please click here.

Call for Papers: Dickens Day 2017


Dickens and Fantasy

Saturday 14th October 2017, Senate House


Dickens Day 2017 will be considering Dickens and Fantasy. Fantasy pervades Dickens’s writing, from the goblins who stole a sexton in his first novel, Pickwick Papers, to the use of fairy tales in Edwin Drood, his last. His deeply held commitment to ‘fancy’, a word from the same root as ‘fantasy’, and the influence of the One Thousand and One Nights on his work is well known. Dickens also loved theatrical fantasies, such as pantomime with its ‘gaslight fairies’ as he called them in Household Words. Dickens often linked scientific and technological developments to fancy and fantasy and delighted in juxtaposing the fantastic and the mundane.

Dickens peopled his work with fantasists of all sorts, from Mr Dick, Josiah Bounderby and Harold Skimpole to Pleasant Riderhood’s fantasies of sailors and breadfruit and Louisa Gradgrind’s visions in the fire. Oliver Twist’s hallucinatory dream, Fagin in the condemned cell and Dickens’s well-known influence on Sigmund Freud confirm the fertility of Dickens’s work for conceptions of the unconscious and associated mental states. G. H. Lewes claimed that Dickens hallucinated his characters and Robert Buss’s painting Dickens’ Dream implies he dreamt them. How does Dickens’s creative process relate to fantasy in both the imaginative and psychological sense?

In what way do Dickens’s ‘Christmas’ books fit within the fantasy tradition and what is their relationship to his other works? What was Dickens’s influence on contemporary and subsequent fantasy authors? How does Dickens use fantasy motifs? How does fantasy use Dickensian motifs? These are just some of the questions we hope to consider on the day.

Jointly run by Birkbeck, Cardiff University, the Dickens Fellowship and the Institute of English Studies, this one-day conference will explore all aspects of Dickens and fantasy. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspect of the theme and warmly encourage Dickensians and scholars of all backgrounds and career stages to apply.

Topics could include but are not limited to:

  • Fantasy, fancy and the imagination
  • Dickens’s ‘Christmas’ books
  • Dickens and neo-Victorian fantasy, steampunk and gaslight romances
  • Dickens, fantasy and science-fiction
  • Dickens, pantomime and theatrical fantasy
  • ‘Gaslight Fairies’: Dickens’s journalism and fantasy
  • ‘Frauds on the Fairies’: Dickens and fairy tales
  • The ‘romantic side of familiar things’: fantasy and the everyday
  • ‘Swart giants, Slaves of the lamp of knowledge’: technology, science and fantasy
  • Robert Buss’s Dickens’ Dream
  • Fantasy and Dickens’s illustrators
  • One Thousand and One Nights and Tales of the Genii
  • Fantasy versus utility
  • Dickens characters in other fantasy works (e.g. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels)
  • Dickens and Television fantasies (e.g. Doctor Who and Tony Jordan’s Dickensian)
  • Mr Dick, Harold Skimpole, Mr Bounderby and other Dickensian fantasists
  • Oliver Twist’s dream and other Dickensian dreams, nightmares, delusions, hallucinations and the unconscious
  • Dickens and Freud
  • Dickens’s creative process: acting, making faces in the mirror, hearing voices?
  • ‘Good Mrs Brown’: Dickens, fantasy and pornography

Please send proposals (maximum 500 words) to Bethan Carney, Holly Furneaux and Ben Winyard at bethan[dot]carney[at]gmail[dot]com, furneauxh[at]cardiff[dot]ac[dot]uk and benwinyard[at]hotmail[dot]com. The deadline for paper proposals is 31st May 2017.

Call for Papers: The Elzeviers and their Contemporaries: Reading, Writing, and Selling Scholarship


Friday 2 June 2017, Woburn Suite, Senate House

Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London


2017 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Louis Elzevier, bookseller and founder of the publishing house which dominated Dutch printing in the seventeenth century. Elzevier books spread across the known world, through their own vast international trade network and via the many foreign students who read them while studying at Dutch universities. They thus helped shape how the topics represented were understood, learned, taught, read, collected and pirated. The renowned dynasty lives on today through the long collectability of its output and through its namesake, the Elsevier publishing house. This conference explores material evidence of the production and consumption of academic books in the early modern period, based around publications by the Elzeviers and their contemporaries.


Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers on topics related to early modern scholarly publishing. Topics for papers might include, but are not limited to:

  • The contemporary book trade and the migration of books;
  • The secondhand/antiquarian book trade;
  • The Elzeviers in context;
  • Collecting and owning early modern books;
  • Piracy, both of content and publishing strategies;
  • Business models of academic presses;
  • Cheap publishing / pocketbooks;
  • Editing in the early modern period;
  • Early modern book illustration
  • Relationships between authors and publishers;
  • The bibliographers of publishers;
  • Digitisation and metadata

The conference will coincide with a display of Senate House Library’s Elzevier collection, one of the largest worldwide.

Please send abstracts of approximately 200 words and a short paragraph of biographical information to Dr Cynthia Johnston at by 24th April 2017.

Humanities after Brexit and Trump – 23/02/17 Seminar Summary


Sociology and history have framed discussions regarding the humanities after Brexit and Trump. We’ve considered such realities as the shrinking of safe and shared public spaces; the increasing prevalence of exclusionary zones in the biosphere as well as the economy; the stress on long-held notions of sovereignty and state. Now we turn to art to help address such questions as ‘is there still room for idealism?’ ‘how do we find nuance in a time when ambiguity is seen as suspect?’ ‘what is the role of art in today’s tumultuous world?’


Please attend the next seminar on Thursday 2nd March to join in with the discussion.

Call for Papers: Engaging with Screens: Art, Archive, Book


Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom, 31 May, 2017.

Deadline: 10 March, 2017



This interdisciplinary workshop invites participants to debate ways in which readers, publishers, archivists, and curators engage with the computer screen and its technologies for the purpose of accessing, preserving, and displaying textual material and paper artefacts. Is the persistence of books and book-like forms in the digital ecology an obstacle or necessity to our understanding of screen-based media? How far can innovative, digital forms stray from their recognizable counterparts in the analogue world before they become too alien for users? Can engagement with a screen effectively replace tactile engagement with a paper manuscript? The aim of the workshop is to explore mechanisms for the bibliographical ‘control’, display, and archiving of textual media in a digital environment; to develop a critical vocabulary for the purpose of examining the ontology and phenomenology of paper artefacts that migrate to screens; and to debate strategies for the preservation and display of digital and digitized texts. By looking for common ground in a collaborative, cross-disciplinary forum, we seek to provide a new account of textual ‘form’ and its accessibility in the digital environment. We welcome innovative cross-disciplinary approaches to these issues and also encourage proposals from specialists in the museum sector, publishing, and software industries.



Proposals for presentations (20 minutes) should be sent to Kathryn Brown ( and Wim van Mierlo ( by no later than 10 March, 2017. Proposals should contain an abstract (max 350 words) and a short biographical note (max 250 words).



Notification of the outcome of proposals will be sent by 24 March, 2017. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer financial support for travel or accommodation.

Call for Papers: The City as Modernist Ephemera



The School of Arts & Creative Industries at London South Bank University will host a one-day interdisciplinary colloquium on Friday 16th June 2016, 9am-6.30pm.


The modernist city emphatically encapsulates the dialectic of the ephemeral and the eternal. Its dynamic flows of goods, people, and commerce at once determine the city’s transitory nature while at the same time reinforce its status as an immutable seat of power and culture attested to by the very materiality built up within and around such dynamic flows.


Amid the fleeting and transient experience of the city, what is it that constitutes an abiding culture? Where is ‘culture’ and in what form does it appear or exist? What are the spaces, moments, events, and cultural artefacts that make up the ephemera that in turn (re)constitute the modernist city?


Prompted by such questions, this colloquium invites proposals that will explore the myriad city-borne arts, objects, practices, and movements that typify the ephemeral and eternal dialectic.


Focussing on the city, and understanding ‘modernist’ in its broadest sense, papers or panels might consider the following:


  • Works (art, architectural, literary, photographic, poetic, etc.) that explore the tensions between the ephemeral and the eternal.
  • Musical, literary, or theatrical performances or works that defined or established an abiding movement or moment.
  • Spontaneous events, meetings, and performances (or ‘planned spontaneity’ in the mode of Dada).
  • Abiding legacies of the chance encounter.
  • The ‘performance’ of societal acts such as conversations in cafes, restaurants, clubs, libraries, salons, theatres, etc.
  • Ephemeral architecture, or spaces and places (re)designed for such acts.
  • Politics of the street: protests, marches, pamphlets.
  • Politics as performance: manifestos, speeches.
  • The Archive.
  • Statutes and Acts.


Confirmed Speakers:


  • Prof. Catherine Moriarty, Curatorial Director, University of Brighton Design Archives
  • Prof. Andrew Thacker, Nottingham Trent University
  • Dr. Nathan Waddell, Asst. Professor in Literary Modernism, Nottingham University


Deadline for proposals: Friday February 24th 2017.


Please send 250-word proposals for individual papers or panels of up to 4 speakers, including a short (50-word) biography with contact information, to the event organiser, Dr Leon Betsworth (LSBU) (

The Humanities After Brexit and Trump


Notions of exclusion, the shrinking of spaces in which people are included and can flourish. Questions regarding the nature of liberty and the obliteration of the questioning mind. Visions of a ‘contact democracy’ which articulates new forms of public decision-making. Discussion on these and related topics took place at the first meeting of the reading group The Humanities After Brexit and Trump. Participants mirrored the pluralistic world endangered by the erection of exclusionary barriers. Greece, Malta, Iran, Canada, Columbia, Peru and Turkey and the US are the notional homes of those who came together to talk. Come join us on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 5 pm for a discussion of The Internet: Comprehending Changed Discourse in the Digital Age. #Humanitiesposttrump.



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