Ken Hirschkop


Ken Hirschkop at Walden Pond

DPhil, Oxford
MA, London
BA, Swarthmore

Extension: 42095
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 range 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

The Cambridge Introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Linguistic Turns, 1890-1950:  Writing on Language as Social Theory. Oxford University Press, 2019.

‘Ethics, Narration and the Linguistic Turn in Bakhtin and Wittgenstein’, in Grenissa Stafuzza and Luciane de Paula (eds.), Círculo de Bakhtin: concepções em construção (Campinas: Mercado de Letras Press, 2019), 189-218.

‘The (Re)discovery of Bakhtin in Anglophone Criticism’, in Michal Mrugalski, Schamma Schahadat, Danuta Ulicka, and Irina Wutsdorff (eds.), Literary Theory Between East and West:  An International Handbook(Berlin:  De Gruyter, forthcoming)

‘Word Magic, Word Science, and World War’, in Sarah Posman, Cedric Van Dijk, and Marysa Demoor (eds.),The Intellectual Response to the First World War (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2017), 65-81.

“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

Over the next few years I will be focusing much of my research on recent critiques of the conception of language as a code or a ‘body of conventions’ (Saussure’s phrase).  These critiques have been made in linguistics, in writing studies, and in the analytic philosophy of language, but they have been developed in almost complete ignorance of one another.  My task is to start some kind of dialogue among them, in the interest of a theory of language with a broader and more comprehensive reach than those mortgaged to traditional theories of meaning.

I am also beginning a course of research on the ‘cultures of populism’.  I’m interested in how mass cultural forms (film, video, television, games, etc.) construct an organize a sense of ‘the people’ and of what it means to be ‘ordinary’, which then undergirds populist appeals in the political sphere.

Since spring of 2020, I have been convening a reading group on Games and Narrative, under the auspices of the Games Institute.  The group, together with other members of the GI, now organises an annual International Conference on Games and Narrative.

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