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Re-thinking Urban Space

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From: http://birmingham.academia.edu/HollyPrescott

Holly Prescott

Thesis Title: Re-thinking Urban Space in Contemporary British Writing

Handed in for first submission in September 2011, my AHRC-funded doctoral research focuses fundamentally around the relationships between affect, memory, narrative and spatial agency in the urban spaces featured in a cross-section of contemporary British literature.

The thesis starts from a critique of the Marxist historico-materialist spatial theory, like that of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, widely adopted in literary studies to give ‘spatial readings’ of texts. I explore the limitations of such theory however, including its neglect of those spaces which lie outside of, have been obsolete by or experience an ambivalent relationship with dominant modes of production and social relation, and also the inability of such theory to entertain the notion that spaces might achieve their own agency, beyond their actualization through human action and appropriation.

As case studies, I elaborate these ideas by looking specifically at abandoned spaces, subterranean spaces and transient (hotel) spaces, investigating how the representation of such spaces allows authors to explore city-space in ways for which Lefebvre’s scheme cannot sufficiently account, such as in the transmission of affect between spaces and human subjects, in which the urban space becomes an agent and subject in its own right. I cover a range of novelists from the more acadmeically ‘popular’ such as Iain Sinclair, Ali Smith and Monica Ali, to those who have attracted very little previous critical attention, such as Nick Royle, Conrad Williams and Tobias Hill. Overall, my project draws attention to the issue of theory in ‘spatial readings’ of texts, asking that we carefully consider the context and relevance of a spatial theory like Lefebvre’s before inflicting it upon the porous, uncontainable and often unruly urban spaces of the contemporary British novel.

In general, my research interests include: Contemporary British and American Fiction; literature and the city; London writing; Literary Birmingham; literature and memory; literature, space and time; psychogeography; cultural geography; postmodernism; urban exploration photography; subterranean descent narratives. I have presented work at postgraduate, national and international conferences and have published essays on topics such as spatial agency in the fiction of Cheshire-born author Nicholas Royle, Contemporary London Descent Narratives and birth narratives and the photography of abandoned maternity wards- a topic on which I have had an article, ‘birth-place’, published by Feminist Review.  I also hold a B.A. (Hons) in English and an M.A. in Literary and Cultural Studies from Lancaster University, where I was awarded the Princess Alexandra Chancellor’s medal.

Here at Birmingham, I am co-founder of ‘Roles’, a Gender and Sexuality Interdisciplinary Research Forum, with which I have co-organised a series of postgraduate symposia on widely varied, cross-disciplinary work in the field of gender and sexuality studies. I am part of the review panel for the Birmingham Journal of Literature and Language, and also help to run the English Department’s weekly research seminar.
I am a teaching assistant in the department, and teach on the first year ‘Literature Foundation’ and second year ‘Literature in Britain after 1945’ modules. I am also co-ordinator and PGTA for an online research skills module in the School of English, Drama and American and Canadian studies, planning and running workshops and drop-in sessions for Postgraduate students in generic and research skills.

Elsewhere, I am actively involved in the annual Literary London conference, and in July 2011 was elected as Postgraduate and Early Career Representative on the committee of the new Literary London Society. I am also very interested in Outreach and Widening Participation in HE and in Postgraduate Recruitment and support provision for new and prospective Postgraduates, and currently work in both these areas at the University of Birmingham.


Written by James Thomas

30/11/2011 at 15:19

Posted in 003/ Space

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