Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Angharad Closs Stephens

“This was an excellent opportunity to be part of an intellectual community of people working at the cutting edge of their respected fields, and it was also an unique opportunity in that I cannot think of another research funding fellowship that would allow me to work with and learn from people in radically different disciplines to myself.”

Dr Angharad Closs Stephens, Durham University

IAS Fellow, Durham University (October - December 2013)

Angharad Closs Stephens is a Lecturer in Human Geography at Durham University. Her research interests derive from a general interest in developing critical approaches to the study and politics of nationalism. This work combines several lines of inquiry, including, the politics of security and the governing of differences; how ideas of space/time enable different ways of imagining and understanding politics; and how urban theories and writings on cities offer an alternative entry point to the study of coexistence.

This work was brought together in her first monograph which was published in 2013, titled, The Persistence of Nationalism: from imagined communities to urban encounters (New York, London: Routledge). This is a book about the difficulties of thinking and acting politically in ways that refuse the politics of nationalism. It offers a detailed study of how contemporary attempts by theorists of cosmopolitanism and globalism to go beyond the nation often reproduces key aspects of what she terms, a ‘nationalist imaginary’. The book argues that we need to re-open the question of what it means to imagine community and that we might do so through the site of the city.

Work on the politics of security has included a co-edited book (with Dr Nick Vaughan-Williams) studying critical responses to the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Terrorism and the Politics of Response (2009) and a number of research articles exploring different aspects of the 'imaginative geographies' of the War on Terror (2007, 2011). The interest in reformulating ideas of coexistence (in ways that defy a 'nationalist imaginary') has also been developed in a research article on sites of memory in Berlin (2010) and a co-written article (with Dr Vicki Squire) that uses an art installation to rework the idea of 'community' (2012). Both these articles experiment with non-linear ideas of time and non-bounded understandings of space and how these might provoke other entry-points to the study of politics. These have led to a broader interest in how aesthetic interventions, including literary texts (2011), prompt different ways of understanding relations with others in the world.

Dr Closs Stephens holds a Master's degree in Gender Studies from the LSE, and a Master's and PhD in International Relations from Keele University. She previously studied for a BSc in International Politics in her home town of Aberystwyth, Wales. From 2007-2011, she was co-convenor of the British International Studies Association Poststructural Politics Working Group.

Dr Closs Stephens' Fellowship will enable her to address in greater depth how literary texts engage the question of what it means to coexist with others across times and cultures. Arguing against the idea that developing better affective connections with others relies on ‘improving’ that which we able to see, she will address how novels shape the political by suggesting a different way of seeing. Her time at the IAS will enable her to establish the intellectual foundations for her next monograph, tentatively titled, Nationalist Atmospheres.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The Persistence of Nationalism: from imagined communities to urban encounters

28th November 2013, 17:30 to 18:30, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Dr Angharad Closs Stephens (Durham University)

Why does nationalism persist in contemporary global politics? And how might we understand this persistence given the many different attempts over the past quarter of a century or so at undoing nationalism’s founding assumptions? This lecture will examine the difficulties of thinking and acting politically in ways that refuse the terms offered by nationalism. It will also develop an argument about how a ‘national imaginary’ is much more prevalent than we might assume.

Reflecting on the political landscape of the War on Terror and the imaginative geographies of ‘us’ and ‘them’, the lecture will examine various examples of the enduring and affective force of nationalist politics. By drawing attention to the ideas about time and space that underpin our political imaginaries, it will address the difficulties and limits of going ‘beyond’ nationalism. For example, it will argue that nationalist ways of seeing the world often inform attempts at offering alternatives to nationalism. This means that the challenge involves more than replacing the national with the global or with the cosmopolitan. This lecture will instead call for a more creative engagement with the question of what it means to imagine community, drawing inspiration in part from various literatures on the experience of city life.

Listen to this lecture in full.

Dr Angharad Closs Stephens Publications

Antonsich, M., Fortier, A-M., Darling, J., Wood, N., Closs Stephens, A. (2014) 'Reading Angharad Closs Stephens's The Persistence of Nationalism: from imagined communities to urban encounters', Political Geography, 40, pp. 56-63.

Closs Stephens, A (2015) 'The affective atmospheres of nationalism', Cultural geographies, DOI: 10.1177/1474474015569994

IAS Insights Paper


This short paper discusses the persistence of nationalism in framing the ways in which we understand what it means to be political. The paper begins by outlining what I describe as a nationalist ‘way of seeing,’ which involves understanding world politics as organised by the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ordered according to a linear and homogenous experience of time. I trace how two contemporary theorists, of cosmopolitanism and globalism respectively, allow this nationalist way of seeing to frame their understandings of political community and, specifically, their discussion of alternatives to nationalism. In the second part of the paper, I turn to a novel written by Hanif Kureishi called The Black Album(1995), to discuss how literary texts set in cities might offer other ways of understanding political community. By troubling an experience of community as bounded and of time as linear, I argue that this novel allows us to discuss what an ‘urban way of seeing’ might offer for the task of developing non-nationalistic accounts of living with others.

Insights Paper