Recent Academic Work
Articles and Chapters
In October 2020, French-language media overflowed with coverage of the release of Sophie Pétronin, the last French hostage held overseas. Pétronin, a 75-year-old humanitarian worker, had been kidnapped in northern Mali nearly four years earlier and returned to France as a Muslim convert who challenged received ideas about security and terror, generating a violent backlash across French social media. She made headlines again a year later for her unlawful clandestine return to Mali. This article argues that the complex figure of Sophie Mariam Pétronin brings into focus the masculinised necropolitics of the Sahelian conflict, including the assumed privilege of white actors, hostility towards female involvement, and the ‘relations of enmity’ that Europe maintains with the racialised others of its former colonies.
McGiffin, E. 2022. Raced and Erased: Settler Colonialism and Environmental Violence in the Poetry of Jordan Abel, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, isac023, https://doi.org/10.1093/isle/isac023 [Open Access]
Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a poet whose three poetry collections use techniques of textual appropriation and erasure. Previous scholarship discusses Abel’s political use of form to challenge colonial appropriations of Indigenous land and cultural artifacts and to express the physical and representational erasures of Indigenous bodies from Canadian landscapes. This article builds on this earlier work to argue that in engaging with the intergenerational trauma of settler colonialism and its mechanisms, Abel’s poetry is activist writing concerned not only with the materiality and politics of texts but also with human connections to landscapes and environments and calls for their restitution.
Published almost exclusively in the multilingual Johannesburg newspaper Umteteli wa Bantu during the 1920s, Nontsizi Mgqwetho’s poetry is enmeshed with the racial and industrial politics of her time and place. Despite its denunciations of the colonial state and vehement calls for black unity and activism, her work is complicated by its publication in a newspaper sponsored by the Chamber of Mines. This article investigates Mgqwetho’s forceful political poetry and its intersection with both the coercive, racist labor policies of her times and the discursive power of Umteteli Wa Bantu. It argues that in linking her religious and political convictions with the social anxieties of her times, Mgqwetho’s work provided the ford through the era’s turbulent political waters.
How does one write—about bodies, sensations, the more-than-human world—in the midst of, and in response to, the mounting devastation that settler colonial capitalism continues to wreak on lands, waters, and relationships? Adorno’s (diversely interpreted) statement that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (Adorno 1983, 34) resonates strongly at the current moment: what does it mean to write, and especially to write beautifully, in conditions that are permeated with colonial violence and capitalist devastation?
McGiffin, E. 2021. The Laudable Cow: Reimagining Cattle Through Pastoralist Poetics. In: Multispecies Storytelling. Ed. Ida Bencke and Jørgen Bruhn. Punctum Books. [Open Access]
While most people living in post-industrial societies rarely interact with cattle, cattle themselves have never been more abundant. Tens of millions of cattle are slaughtered each year within a global industrialized food system that is deeply injurious to animals, humans, and the environment. Yet industrial intimacy is far from the only possible human-cattle relationship in the modern world. This article examines poetry from a contemporary pastoralist tradition as well as from nineteenth century cattle droving that was a formative aspect of North American culture. It argues that relationships of proximity and associated expressive arts are key aspects of the larger project of transforming our damaged relationship with a species that plays an important role in human wellbeing.
McGiffin, E. 2020. Academic-practitioner collaboration in an age of precarity. Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 41, no. 2. [Open Access]
Collaborations between academics and practitioners working in international development hold significant potential to increase the impact and effectiveness of development research and practice. Innovative and successful collaborations can undoubtedly offer rich benefits to all parties involved. At the same time, it is worth noting that calls for increased collaboration are part of broader economic trends that include shrinking financial support for both the higher education and the overseas development assistance sectors. High-level structural and institutional changes that place partners under increased stress can make effective collaborations more difficult to achieve and maintain and can make them costlier from the perspective of human wellbeing.
McGiffin, E. 2019. Thukela Poswayo’s Poetry of Dwelling. In: Geopoetics in Practice. Ed. E. Magrane, L. Russo, S. de Leeuw, C. Santos Perez. Routledge, New York.
This chapter discusses three izibongo performed by the amaXhosa imbongi (poet) Thukela Poswayo at public events near his hometown of Mthatha in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. The poems are deeply evocative both of place and of the ancestral presences that continue to inhabit those places, tying people into a lineage and form of dwelling that extends into past and future.
McGiffin, E. 2018. Oral poetry and development ideology in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 2, no. 2-3: 279-295.
<style=”margin: 0cm;”>In rural and peri-urban areas of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, iimbongi, or praise poets, are artists with a gift for both language and healing who play an important and varied role in contemporary society. Although the tradition is diverse and changing, the imbongi’s literary practice is widely understood to have spiritual and ritual functions, much like the practices of traditional healers. Iimbongi have much to offer South Africa’s decolonisation process, helping to heal communities struggling through the aftermath of historical violence by actively affirming indigenous agency, language and identity.
McGiffin, E. 2016. The izibongo of resistance: Praise poets, trade unions and the violence of extractive capitalism. Green Letters, 20, no. 2.
The South African labour movement of the 1970s and 1980s was accompanied by the rise of a new working class poetry. Drawing on traditional literary forms, the ‘worker poets’ became a prominent voice of anti-apartheid and anti-capitalist resistance. Performed during union meetings and community gatherings, their poems encoded the experiences of black labourers and gave voice to their struggles. As union membership surged throughout the 1980s, oral poets played a pivotal role in representing an invisible working class, advancing common notions of democracy, galvanising labourers into action and promoting social cohesion in the pursuit of a common cause. In challenging the extractive theft inflicted on their communities and environments, the worker poets exemplify a version of African environmentalism that recognises the constitutive ties between capital, labour and landscape, resisting not only the exploitation of African labour under the apartheid regime but also the environmental injustice that this subjugation represented.
A slide deck presenting my thoughts and experiences on postdoctoral fellowships.
- 2021 Review Essay: Anthropocene poetics by David Farrier and The New Poetics of Climate Change: Modernist Aesthetics for a Warming World by Matthew Griffeths. Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment.
- 2019 Outside, America by Sarah de Leeuw. The Malahat Review.
- 2019 Writing their way home: Songs of Exile by Bänoo Zan and The Rules of the Kingdom by Julie Paul. Canadian Literature, 235.
- 2018 Cartograph by Cara-Lyn Morgan. The Malahat Review, 203.
- 2018 Caribou Run by Richard Kelly Kemick. The Goose, 16(2).
- 2017 Omnibus Review: Ignite by Kevin Spenst; Country Club by Andy McGuire; Our Inland Sea by James Lindsay; Jabbering with Bing Bong by Kevin Spenst. Canadian Literature, 232.
- 2017 Review of Small Fires by Kelly Norah Drukker. The Goose, 15(2).
- 2017 Shiner by Eva H.D.. Arc Poetry Magazine, 79.
- 2016 Skeena by Sarah de Leeuw and Feral flora by Amanda Ackerman. The Goose, 15(1).
- 2016 The brink of freedom by Stella Leventoyannis Harvey. The Malahat Review, 196.
- 2016 A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes by Madhur Anand and Endangered Hydrocarbons by Lesley Battler. Arc Poetry Magazine, 78.
- 2016 Invasive Species by Claire Caldwell. The Goose, 14(2).
- 2015 Society decamps there: Fabienne Calvert Filteau’s Second Growth. Arc Poetry Magazine, 77.
- 2015 Apocalypse happens: An iteration of the end in Sarah Lang’s For Tamara. Arc Poetry Magazine, 76.
- 2015 Sybil Unrest by Larissa Lai and Rita Wong. The Goose, 13(2).
- 2014 Memory and mourning in Anne Michaels’ Correspondences. Arc Poetry Magazine, 74.
- 2013 A World Clad in Brutality: Rachel Lebowitz’s Cottonopolis. Arc Poetry Magazine, 72.
- 2013 Sexual Wilderness: Sarah de Leeuw’s Geographies of a Lover. Arc Poetry Magazine, 71.
- 2013 Allegheny, BC by Rodney DeCroo and Grid by Brenda Schmidt. The Malahat Review, 182.