Teaching World Literatures in English: Inside the US Academy, Outside the Whale


  • Rashna Batliwala Singh Colorado College


Globalisation, postcolonial, canon, subject positions, cultural citizenship


Global migration has resulted in a changing student body and a changing cohort of English professors.  This new demographic often teaches in a manner that ‘talks back’ to cultural hegemony. How do students in the US academy respond when canonical texts are taught by someone perceived as outside the lineage and not pedigreed to teach the canon? Or when professors teach both canonical and postcolonial texts in their historical and political contexts, not shying away from the dialectic between literature and history or literature and politics? Literature classes provide, or should provide, students with the skills to read the world as text, to read it critically and in context. But whose text, what context, which literature and, indeed, whose world? An intersectional academic approach to literary texts that interrogates the positions of power from which writing and cultural expression originate can be seen as contaminative. But as Gayatri Spivak notes, the historian and the teacher of literature “must critically ‘interrupt’ each other, bring each other to crisis.” This article explores how the clash of cultural, structural and subject positions can produce a new power/knowledge differential. It discusses the constitution of positionality and the problematics of ownership of the story and interrogates the consequences of a pedagogical approach that foregrounds more historicist/political readings of literary texts as one methodology.

Author Biography

Rashna Batliwala Singh, Colorado College

Rashna Batliwala Singh is currently Visiting Professor of English and Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies at Colorado College. She received her B.A. Honours degree from the University of Calcutta, her M.A. from Mount Holyoke College, and her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is the author of The Imperishable Empire: British Fiction on India and Goodly is Our Heritage: Children's Literature, Empire, and the Certitude of Character. She has published book chapters on Kipling, Achebe and Conrad, and the search for an Asian African Imaginary, as well as many scholarly articles on British colonial and postcolonial literatures.