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Robert F. Barsky

Professor of Humanities, and Professor of Law; Guggenheim Fellow, Vanderbilt University

Robert Franklin Barsky is a Professor of Humanities and a Professor of Law at the Vanderbilt University . His work is deeply interdisciplinary, relating to 19th and 20th Century English and French literature, literary theory, immigration, the milieus of Noam Chomsky, the law/literature overlap, and the Americas — writ large.

Barsky was born and raised in Montréal. He attended Brandeis University, and then undertook graduate work at McGill University focused first on Lord Byron (“Byron and Catastrophism”), and then on the application of discourse and literary theories to Convention refugee transcripts (“The Construction Through Discourse a Productive Other”). He was a Professeur sous octroi for the Institut national de recherché scientifique (INRS), before taking up a post-doc with Michel Meyer on rhetoric and argumentation at l’Université libre de Bruxelles, in Belgium. He has held professorships at the University of Western Ontario, l’Université du Québec à Montréal, University of Memphis Law School and VU Amsterdam, in 2002 he was named the Canadian Bicentennial Visiting Professor at Yale, and in 2019-2020 he held a Canada Research Chair.

Barsky’s newest book is Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing Persecution. He is the author or editor of numerous books on: narrative and law (Undocumented Immigrants in an Era of Arbitrary Law [2016], Constructing a Productive Other: Discourse Theory and the Convention Refugee Hearing [1994] and Arguing and Justifying: Assessing the Convention Refugees’ Choice of Moment, Motive and Host Country [2000]); on radical theory and practice (Zellig Harris: From American Linguistics to Socialist Zionism [2011], The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower [2007], Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent [1997] and an edition of Anton Pannekoek’s Workers Councils [2002]); on discourse and literary theory (Introduction à la théorie littéraire [1997], an edited volume with Michael Holquist, Bakhtin and Otherness [1990], an edited collection with Eric Méchoulan, The Production of French Criticism [2002], an edited collection called Marc Angenot and the Scandal of History [2004], numerous edited collections for AmeriQuests ( including “Quests Beyond the Ivory Tower: Public Intellectuals, Academia and the Media”, with Saleem Ali); and on translation — in both theory and practice (including a translation of Michel Meyer’s Philosophy and the Passions [2000]). His first novel, 'Hatched', was published in early 2016.

Barsky has been involved with a range of journals, including SubStance, for which he served as an editor, Literary Research (ICLA) for which he served as Managing Editor, and he is the founder of 415 South Street, a literary magazine, Discours social/Social Discourse, and the international on-line journal AmeriQuests (

Barsky recently completed Professorships at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Toulouse, and at the Law School of the VU Amsterdam under the auspices of the Dutch Royal Society. He is also the Faculty Director of the W.T. Bandy Center, and the director of the Literature and Law Seminar in the Robert Penn Warren Center. In 2018 he is a Resident Fellow at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center, in Italy.


  • –present
    Professor of English and French Literatures, and Professor of Law , Vanderbilt University


Guggenheim Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Residency, FCAR grants, Dutch Royal Academy Grant, Belgian Fonds Nationale, SSHRC grants