Neil Cocks has a new publication: Higher Education Discourse and Deconstruction: Challenging the Case for Transparency and Objecthood.

Neil Cocks has published a new monograph with Palgrave,  Higher Education Discourse and Deconstruction: Challenging the Case for Transparency and Objecthood.

Neil writes:

My new monograph is concerned with neo-liberalism and Higher Education. We all have at least some idea that universities are undergoing significant change, and that this is to do with an increase in managerialism. The university is subject to market forces, and these manifest themselves in an audit culture, one that produces change through subtle means: ‘steering from a distance’, as the educational theorist Stephen Ball has it. The problem is often understood in terms of an assault on truth. Neo-liberalism requires old certainties to be dissolved, and post-modernity is taken to be its discourse of choice. As such, it is understandable that there are those that turn to objecthood with positive relief. Self evidence, transparency, materiality: with these we might stem the flood! My monograph counsels against this move. Following the groundbreaking work of Bill Readings, I argue that the new-managerial university is resistant to the discursive, not the apparently self-evident.

Palgrave describe the book as:

‘[…] a critique of neoliberalism within UK Higher Education, taking its cue from approaches more usually associated with literary studies. It offers a sustained and detailed close reading of three works that might be understood to fall outside the established body of educational theory. The unconventional methodology and focus promote irreducible difference and complexity, and in this stage a resistance to reductive discourses of managerialism. Questioning the materialism to which all sides of the contemporary pedagogical debate increasingly appeal, the book sets out a challenge to investments in ‘excellence’, ‘transparency’ and objecthood. It will be of interest to students and researchers in the fields of education, sociology, and literary theory.’

And here is a review from Jan de Vos, author of Psychologisation in Times of Globalisation (2012) and The Metamorphoses of the Brain – Neurologisation and Its Discontents (2016):

‘Have you not always had the suspicion that audit culture and managerialism in higher education have to do with “the sexual, the invisible, the excessive, the linguistic”?, then this fascinating book is for you! Critically engaging with Diane Purkiss’s essay on sexual harassment, Ecclestone and Hayes’s rejection of the discourse on bullying and Nigel Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory, Neil Cocks convincingly shows that these critical voices veer dangerously close to what they attack and are perfectly aligned with neo-liberal managerialism. Cocks’s compelling argument is that when the aim of those critics is to free theory from the tyranny of subjectivity, we are in for a new tyranny: that of the self-evident. This book’s sustained plea to still engage with both irredeemable textuality and the excessiveness of subjectivity should be mandatory reading for scholars and their managers.’
Dr Jan de Vos

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Dr Madeleine Davies writes:

Dr Bethany Layne and I would like to express our sincere thanks to our undergraduate and postgraduate students who helped us organise the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ conference in the Department on Saturday 25th March, as well as to all our students who came along to support it.

The conference grew out of our work on our research-led Part 3 modules and the positivity that we received from our students was extraordinary. Eight undergraduate students worked with us on event organisation; they took photographs, managed the digital equipment, publicised the event, and oversaw logistical detail. They also led the Twitter feed from the conference (the comments on the feed are a joy).



Three of our Part 3 students (Chloe de Lullington, Dan Buckingham and Claire Timmerman) agreed to take part in a student panel at the conference and we were delighted to see that our keynote delegates, including Professor David Lodge, Professor Susan Sellers, Professor Maggie Gee, Professor Coral Ann Howells, Professor David Brauner, and Professor Patrick Parrinder expressed a keen desire to hear their papers. All commented on the sophistication of their work and on the professional confidence with which they delivered their academic papers. Several delegates (including Professor Sellers) mentioned how impressed they were that the Department could produce such outstanding contributions from undergraduate students.

Chloe and Dan were central to the planning and detail of the conference, and Part 2 students Jack Champion and Vicky Matthews were also essential to the event. Jack is writing about the event for ‘Spark’ and Vicky took our photographs for us. Part 3 student Ruth Williams helped us with advertising via social media, and PhD student Will Davies chaired a panel for us.

These students’ involvement was a tribute to their personal confidence and it also demonstrated their critical engagement with the material they had studied with us. Their advanced thinking expressed the ‘mastery of the discipline’ and the ‘skills in research and enquiry’ lying at the heart of our teaching principles.

Our collaborative values were demonstrated by the Vice-Chancellor’s attendance at the afternoon sessions of the Conference. Sir David Bell chatted with our students about their work, and his support of Dr Layne and I spoke to our leadership’s commitment to collaborative knowledge sharing and to the development of productive, inclusive relationships.

To all who attended the event, thank you for all your hard work and for being such fine ambassadors for our department. Any student who would like to help us with the organisation of the student and public-facing Jess Phillips MP talk on June 1st, please contact me ( We would also be very grateful for help with the International Virginia Woolf conference to be hosted at UofR at the end of June/early July.




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Wendy O’Shea-Meddour at the Oxford Literary Festival

Wendy O’Shea-Meddour (English Literature Lecturer) is delighted to be appearing at the Oxford Literary Festival on April 1st, alongside her illustrator (and teenage daughter), Mina May. They will be in conversation with The Sunday Times children’s book editor, Nicolette Jones, discussing their internationally successful series Wendy Quill, the art of creative collaboration, and the highs and lows of their adventures in the publishing world.

Tickets are £12.50

Venue: Worcester College Lecture Theatre, Oxford University

Time: 12pm, April 1st.

To book a place or find out more:

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RUSU Excellence Awards 2017

RUSU have announced the launch of their student-led Excellence Awards for 2017. These aim to recognise members of University of Reading staff who students believe have gone above and beyond expectations. As RUSU states: ‘ Why are [these awards] important? Not only is it important to celebrate and give thanks to hard work, but it is also important to get you thinking about what good teaching means to you. Winners of the RUSU Excellence Awards will receive a trophy at our awards ceremony and are commended publicly by the University at the Graduation ceremonies.’

There are 8 awards. There are 4  Teaching Excellence Awards for lecturers who have provided students with engaging and intellectually stimulating lectures, or have supported, guided and inspired students to achieve their potential through excellent seminars, supervision, feedback and the like. A further Diverse and Inclusive Teaching Excellence Award celebrates teaching staff that design and deliver an engaging and diverse curriculum. There is an award for Personal Tutor Excellence, and another Support Staff Excellence award that celebrates outstanding contributions of non-teaching staff.

This year there is a new award. The Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence Award. This is for passionate and committed Postgraduate teaching staff and assistants. Some undergraduate students in the department may have encountered brilliant postgraduate teaching in their Part One seminars.

For more information, see


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Reading Creative Arts Anthology 2017 is launched next Monday

We are delighted to be able to invite you to the launch of the 2017 edition of the University of Reading Creative Arts Anthology, titled Truth is Like a Lazarus; or, A Roof Bursting with Stars. As ever, the publication would not be possible without the fantastic contributions we receive from students, staff and the local community, so to those featured, thank you all for your part in this tenth edition of the Anthology, and the previous nine editions also.

The launch will take place at 6PM on Monday 20th March, in the newly refurbished Van Emden Lecture Theatre in the HumSS Building (soon to become the Edith Morley  Building in honour of Britain’s first female professor). The evening will feature an introduction from the editorial team about work on this year’s Anthology, opportunities to get hold of a copy of the 2017 Anthology (copies are £5, though each contributor receives a copy free; previous editions will be available too at a TBD price), refreshments, and of course readings from the book by the contributors, which will be structured around a short interval. Following this formal part of the evening, we will move to HumSS 106 for a more casual reception.


We would love for as many contributors as possible to read their work on the night, so please let us know if you are planning to attend and would like to read (or alternatively, if you are planning to attend and particularly don’t want to read, which is also fine!), so we can get an idea of how many readings to expect in advance of the evening.

Entry is free, and we’ll have plenty of space in the theatre should anyone wish to bring extra friends along for the evening. If you’re unable to attend, but would still like a copy, there are plenty of ways to do so. If you want to buy one directly from us, please get in touch either via this email address or via my (Jerome) personal email at Alternatively, the Anthology will be available to buy from Waterstones on Broad Street, and Blackwells in the RUSU Building on Whiteknights Campus, soon after launch.

If you have any questions, please do get in touch. Otherwise, we hope to see you all there on the 20th!

Best wishes,

The Editorial Team

(Jerome, Jack, Josi, Juan & Sophie)

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Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies research seminar

Dr Joanna Bellis (Merton College, Oxford) will be talking on “Constructing a Genre: Eyewitness Writing in the Middle Ages”. Dr Bellis works on medieval and early modern English literary accounts of the Hundred Years War.

The seminar is on Thursday 16th March, 4.30pm in HumSS 126.

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Department Student Awards



For the first time, English Literature is awarding prizes for outstanding academic achievement and for outstanding contributions to the life and work of the Department. This summer there will be prizes for academic excellence at Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the degree, for the best presentation, and for the student considered to have contributed most constructively and consistently to seminar discussion. There is also ‘The Simon Dentith Award’ for a student who has had to overcome significant difficulties to complete their studies. The winners of these prizes will be decided by staff following the Summer Exam Boards; each category carries a prize of between £25 and £100.

In two categories we need student nominations and/or self-nominations. These categories are:

Best Contributor to English Literature at Reading: This may include STAR, PALS, Open Day and Visit Days activity (ambassadorship), but it may also include other types of contribution to the life of the Department. You can either nominate a fellow student or nominate yourself. Prize of £100.

Best Contribution to Community and Citizenship: This includes activities such as volunteering in the community beyond the department or beyond the university. It may, for example, include charitable activities or contributions to diversity, equality, and inclusion groups. You can either nominate a fellow student or nominate yourself. Prize of £100.

Send a brief summary of nominations to Dr Madeleine Davies who is Chair of the Prize-giving Panel. Nominations need to be received by 31st May 2017.


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Postmodernist Biofictions Conference

Postmodernist Biofictions Conference Schedule

HumSS Building, University of Reading, 25th March 2017


9.00-9.30 – Registration

9.30 – 10.30 – Keynote Lecture 1

Professor Maggie Gee, Bath Spa University

‘Onceness: Biofiction and the Truth of the Individual Body’

10.30 – 11.00 – Tea and Coffee

11.00 – 12.30 – Parallel Panel Session 1


Panel A – Authors and Artists: Fictionalizing the Female Subject

Chair: Madeleine Davies

Elaine Hudson Julia Lajta-Novak Eleanor Knight
The Author in the Looking-Glass: Norah Vincent’sAdeline as Reflective Biography


Postmodern Feminism to Postfeminism:

Generic Layering in Biofictions about Women Artists


The Trial of Jean Rhys – An Opera:

Transcribing the Authentically Unpleasant Voice of a Literary Icon.


Panel B – Versions and Subversions: ‘History’ and Biofiction

Chair: David Brauner

Pedro Ponce Bronwen Edwards Vin Arthey
The American Presidency: A Conspiratorial History The Romance of War: Relationships in Biofictions and Biographies about the Women of SOE


Spy Biography < > Spy Fiction > Spy Biofiction



12.30-1.30 – Lunch


1.30-2.30 – Professor Susan Sellers, University of St Andrews, Author of Vanessa and Virginia, in conversation with Bethany Layne

2.30-4.00 – Parallel Panel Session 2


Panel C – Auto-Biofiction and Displaced Identities

Chair: Elaine Hudson

Pauline Eyre Hannah Yelin Olga Dzhumaylo
Narrating Problem Bodies: Christopher Nolan’s Under the Eye of the Clock Constructedness and Sexual Trauma
in the Biofiction of Pamela Anderson
Impossibility of Closure in John Fowles’ Autobiographical NovelDaniel Martin


Panel D – Biofiction and Gender (Student Panel)

Chair: Will Davies

Chloe DeLullington Claire Timmerman Daniel Buckingham Rachel Morden
Unwrapping Lady Lazarus: Female Suicide and Creativity in Biofiction Sororophilia and Sororophobia in Susan Sellers’ Vanessa and Virginia De-feminising Fenimore: Positioning the Rival in David Lodge’s Author, Author Celebrating the “Difficult Women” in The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted


4.00-4.30 – Tea and Coffee


4.30-5.30 – David Lodge CBE, Author of A Man of Parts and Author, Author, in conversation with Bethany Layne


5.30-6.15 – Plenary roundtable and discussion


Register for the conference here.


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EMRC seminar

The next EMRC seminar will be held on


Monday 6 March, 1-2 pm, HUMSS 124

Eva Johanna Holmberg (Helsinki),

“Travel and Self-Description in Seventeenth-Century English Culture”

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Postmodernist Biofiction: a one-day conference

Postmodernist Biofiction: a one-day conference in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading.

 Saturday 25 March 2017, HumSS

Organisers: Dr Bethany Layne and Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

Students and colleagues are warmly invited to attend this one-day conference where key speakers include authors David Lodge, Susan Sellers and Maggie Gee.

Biofiction is a much-debated form blending the traditional genres of ‘biography’ and ‘fiction’ to produce a postmodernist splicing where questions of ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ are held up for scrutiny. In the modern era, biofictions have proliferated and texts such as David Lodge’s Author Author (focused upon Henry James), Susan Sellers’ Vanessa and Virginia (centralising the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell), Kate Moses’ Wintering (concerning the final months in the life of Sylvia Plath) and Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhatten (imagining a temporarily reborn Woolf exploring contemporary New York)have achieved heightened critical and academic attention.

The Postmodernist Biofiction conference involves a selection of academic panels (including a student panel), keynote addresses and an interview with David Lodge; the discussions throughout the day will investigate a range of issues involved in this curious genre.  Papers will be delivered on the postmodern construction of the subject, the representation of the female ‘artist’ in biofiction, US conspiracy theory presidential biofictions, and there will be debate about the ’ethics’ of a genre where ‘fiction’ connects with biographical ‘fact’ in novels about ‘real people’.

We would like to involve our students in this event so please do join in if you have an interest in this fascinating topic. Colleagues from the University are also invited; come and hear David Lodge, Susan Sellers and Maggie Gee, as well as a range of academics and students, and contribute to the discussion about the intriguing textual hybrid known as biofiction.

For further information, please see our Twitter page and/or contact Dr Bethany Layne ( or Dr Madeleine Davies (


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