Ken Hirschkop at Walden Pond

DPhil, Oxford
MA, London
BA, Swarthmore

Extension: 32095
Office: HH 245


I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised near Boston. My original academic speciality was music theory and history, but in 1981, after a brief stint as an apprentice harpsichord maker, I went to England to do graduate work in literature. There, largely by chance, I decided to write my doctorate on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, focusing on his theory of language. At the University of Southampton, where I worked from 1987 until 1995, I had the rather grandiose title of Lecturer in the History and Theory of Communication, a title I did my best to live up to, by offering courses that covered a wide sphere of issues in communication, past and present. From 1995 until 2005 I worked at the University of Manchester, where I ran and taught an MA programme in Cultural Criticism. In the summer of 2005 I moved to Waterloo.

Selected publications

“Moved by language in motion:  discourse, myth, and public opinion in the early twentieth century”, in David Bradshaw and Laura Marcus (eds.), Moving Modernisms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

“A Time and a Place for Everything:  On Russia, Britain and Being Modern”, in Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock (eds.), Russia in Britain, 1880-1940 (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2013), 258-68.

“Language in 1910 (and after):  Saussure, Benjamin and Paris”, Modernist Cultures 8:2 (2013), 200-14.

“How many cultures are there in multiculturalism?: the imagining of ethnicity in Toronto”, in Richard Dennis, Ceri Morgan and Stephen Shaw (eds.), The Contemporary Canadian Metropolis (London:  Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2010).

Benjamin’s Arcades Project: an unguided tour (co-authored with Peter Buse, Scott McCracken and Bertrand Taithe). Manchester: Manchester University Press.  2005.  xii, 205 pp.

“Culture, Class and Education (1945-1970)”, in The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature, ed. Laura Marcus and Peter Nicholls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 455-73.

“Justice and Happiness: on Bakhtin as a complement to Habermas”, in After Habermas: New Perspectives on the Public Sphere, ed. Nick Crossley and John Roberts (Oxford: Basil Blackwell/The Sociological Review, 2004), pp. 49-66.

Bakhtin and Cultural Theory, co-edited with David Shepherd. Manchester: Manchester University Press. First edition, 1989.  Second, revised and expanded edition, 2001.  

Mikhail Bakhtin: An Aesthetic for Democracy. Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1999.  xx, 332 pp.

Grants, fellowships and awards

  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 2009-2012
  • Leverhulme Research Fellow, 2000

Current research

My principal current project is a study of how various linguistic turns were taken (or almost taken) in the human sciences between 1890 and 1951.  I’m interested in why so many intellectuals, independently of one another, decided that the key to the renewal of their disciplines and of European culture more generally lay in the study and reform of language itself. The project covers, among others, Walter Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, Saussure, Ogden and Richards, Grigory Vinokur, and Ernst Cassirer.

I've recently written a book on Benjamin's Arcades Project with three friends, and we are following this up with a research project examining how cities tell their own stories. This project will examine how Toronto, Manchester, Algiers and Buenos Aries have narrated their past and present in the course of the twentieth century, in all media, from the literary to the popular and official. I'm responsible for the Toronto leg of this project.

Areas of graduate supervision

  • Cultural and literary theory (especially Bakhtin, the Frankfurt School, Marxist theory, Raymond Williams)
  • Politics and language
  • Modern philosophy of language
  • Critical media studies
  • Urban culture
University of Waterloo

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