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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Frances Bartkowski

IAS Fellow at St Mary's College, Durham University (January - March 2009)

Professor Fran Bartkowski is a feminist theorist and literary critic with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Iowa. She was the recipient of a Mellon post-doctoral fellowship at Wesleyan University in 1984-85, and a Visiting Associate Professor of Women's Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1994-95. Professor Bartkowski has been teaching English and Women's Studies at Rutgers University-Newark since 1989.

She has published two books: Feminist Utopias (University of Nebraska Press, 1989); and Travelers, Immigrants, Inmates: Essays in Estrangement (University of Minnesota Press, 1995). Her third book entitled, Kissing Cousins: A New Kinship Bestiary will appear in August 2008 from Columbia University Press. She has also co-edited with Wendy Kolmar a widely adopted textbook going into its third edition, Feminist Theory: A Reader, published by McGraw-Hill. Her articles include work on French post-structuralism, questions of the sublime, artists such as the photographer Diane Arbus and the painter Samuel Bak. She has recently begun publishing poetry, and is also working on a novel set in a displaced persons camp in post-World War II Germany.

Professor Bartkowski's work has always been an effort to participate in defining new fields: whether the wholesale rewriting of utopian and dystopian discourse in literature and theory by feminists in the 1970s and into the 1980s as in her first book; or, in her second book, where she examined questions of identity and dislocation through political and psychoanalytic categories as found in travel writing, immigrant autobiographies, and in concentration camp memoirs.

While at work on Kissing Cousins the field of animal studies began to emerge, and this book is likely to be a text that introduces some of the key questions of the field to students, scholars and general readers. Reviewers for the press described the manuscript as "groundbreaking," and its style as "bold" in its combination of "philosophical analysis and poetic evocation." This book takes up the disciplines of anthropology, primatology and genetics as they come to terms with the rewriting of kinship in the 21st century as evidenced in literature, film, art and current events. Professor Bartkowski's work at the Institute for Advanced Study on the topic of "Being Human" will continue to explore how much the question of the human remains with us, unsettled and unsettling, whether considering a field such as genetics or the continuing proliferation of events gathered under the term genocide.

Fellow's Home Page

Professor Fran Bartkowski Publications


IAS Insights Paper


Patricia Piccinini's sculpture was presented at the Australian pavilion of the 2003 Venice Biennale. Piccinini's creatures occupy a space between the disavowed and the desired. I focus on the borders and boundaries that emerge from a wish to remap our connectedness, our relatedness subsequent to our fevered studies of differences, divergences. The identity politics of the late twentieth century focused our attention at the points of difference even while demanding the coalitional, collective work across those differences; this century has us turning from otherness and difference to relationality and sameness, back some distance from the particular, demanding the glance that can take in globality/universality, all the while refusing totality. Piccinini works and thinks against a kind of arrogance that would presume to know what is best; in fact, she points out that often we do the wrong things for the right
reasons, and it is in those unintended consequences that her interest and curiosity lie. With her, I would privilege curiosity, even as I wonder whether it is possible to maintain a theoretically ethically neutral perspective on this trait of our animal selves. For out of curiosity can come creation, but often also the urge to control. Technology and kinship both might be deemed what we make of that which we are given - the potential derived from the possible. Here is where Piccinini's imagination stretches ours. The materials of Piccinini's work
range from silicone to leather to human hair, and fiberglass, polycarbonate and automotive paint; materials that may be what we cannot dispose of, but which, in their plasticity, as they take familiar familial forms, open us up as spectators. Piccinini says her work comes to her first as ideas, and some of those ideas then ‘grow bones and want to walk,' though bones are not the materials of their making.

Insights Paper