Debjani Ganguly

Professor of English, Director of Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures (University of Virginia)

Debjani Ganguly


Postcolonial Studies, World Literature, South Asian Studies, Global Anglophone Novel, Literary Forms in the New Media Age, Caste and Dalit studies, Indian Ocean Literary Worlds (1750-1950), Literature, War and Human Rights


I currently work on global and world literatures. I have recently published a book with Duke University Press on the contemporary world novel with a focus on transnational works dealing with the global immanence of terror, warfare and genocide. Entitled This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form, the book reprises the novel’s historical links to distant suffering and technologies of mediation - the staple of debates on the sentimental novel and the rise of Abolitionism in the late 18th century - in the context of the emergence of a critical mass of works written against the backdrop of contemporary sites of geopolitical carnage. Works on the Palestinian crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Kashmir issue, post-9/11 America, and the Rwanda genocide, feature as case studies.

I have published essays on Indian language worlds and Dalit lifestories in The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature (2011) and The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture (2012) respectively, and have co-edited a special issue of the Routledge journal in theoretical humanities, Angelaki, on the theme, ‘Limits of the Human’ (2011). This volume offers a range of critical perspectives on the ‘human’ as a limit case against the backdrop of catastrophic climate change, large-scale mediatization of global wars and the materialist informatics of our digital worlds. Two other edited volumes on postcolonial and global studies include Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual (2007), and Rethinking Gandhi and Nonviolent Relationality: Global Perspectives (2007).

My first monograph, Caste, Colonialism and Counter-Modernity (2005), is both an intellectual history and a revisionist ethnography of caste and untouchability in India from the point of view of theoretical developments in the field of postcolonial studies. Spanning a period from the eighteenth century to the present, the book traces the discursive horizons of 'caste' from early colonial histories and anthropological tracts to contemporary dalit literature and postcolonial historiographical projects such as Subaltern Studies. It argues that caste is not so much an essence responsible for India's 'backwardness' as a constellation of variegated social practices that are in a constant state of flux and that cannot be completely contained in a narrative of nation-building, modernisation and development. What is offered in this analysis is not an endorsement of either the caste-system or casteism, but a resistance to the reified ways in which caste continues to figure in social scientific and nation-building discourses.

I am the General Editor of The Cambridge History of World Literature (2 volumes, forthcoming 2020) and of a book series Cambridge Studies in World Literature. I have edited a special issue of the journal South Asia on the theme 'The Subaltern after Subaltern Studies' (Vol 38, No.1, 2015). Other recent publications include essays on the novel after 1989, and the normative provenance of world literature in The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel (2015) and The Values of Literary Studies (2015) respectively. I co-edit with Ato Quayson and Neil Ten Kortenaar the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry.

Visiting Positions

  • Seminar Faculty, The Institute for World Literature (IWL), Harvard University, 2015
  • Halls Visiting Professor, Centre for the Humanities and Department of English, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2015
  • Visiting Fellowship, University of Cambridge, Clare Hall and Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, 2013
  • Visiting Fellowship, University of Chicago, Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, 2010

Board Memberships

  • Harvard Institute for World Literature, 2014-2020
  • International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA), 2016-2020
  • Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes (CHCI), 2009-2020
  • Duke-UVA- Bologna Academy in Global Humanities and Critical Theory, 2016-2020
  • CLARINS (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure, a pan-European collaborative effort, Utrecht University), 2008-2013
  • Project Bamboo, Digital Humanities Project led by University of California, Berkeley, 2009-2013
  • Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres (ACHRC), 2011-2015

Selected Publications


  • This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016
  • Caste and Dalit Lifeworlds: Postcolonial Perspectives, New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2008
  • Rethinking Gandhi and Nonviolent Relationality: Global Perspectives, ed. With John Docker, London and New York, Routledge, 2007
  • Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual, ed. With Ned Curthoys, Melbourne University Press, 2007
  • Caste, Colonialism and Counter-Modernity: Notes on a Postcolonial Hermeneutics of Caste, London and New York: Routledge, 2005


  • 'The Value of Worldmaking in Global Literary Studies' The Value of Literary Studies, ed. Ronan McDonald, Cambridge University Press, 2015
  • 'Postcolonialism's Afterlife: The Novel after 1989', The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel, ed. Ato Quayson, Cambridge University Press, 2015
  • 'The Subaltern After Subaltern Studies: Genealogies and Transformations' South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2, 2015
  • 'The World Novel, Mediated Wars and Exorbitant Witnessing,' Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, 1:1, 2014
  • 'Dalit Life-Stories', The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture, ed. Vasudha Dalmia, Cambridge University Press, 2012
  • 'Deathworlds, The World Novel and the Human', Angelaki, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2011
  • 'The Language Question in India', The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature, ed. Ato Quayson, Cambridge University Press, 2011
  • 'Pain, Personhood and the Collective: Dalit Lifestories', Asian Studies Review, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2009
  • 'Literary Globalism in the New Millenium', Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2008
  • 'Global Literary Refractions: Reading Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters', English Academy Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, June 2008
  • 'From Empire to Empire: Writing the Transnational Anglo-Indian Self in Australia', Journal of Intercultural Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2007
  • 'Buddha, Bhakti and Superstition: A Post-Secular Reading of Dalit Conversion', Postcolonial Studies, April 2004, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2004

Invited Talks and Presentations (select)

  • 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 'The Contemporary Novel as Global Form,' Mellon Sawyer Seminar
  • 2013, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 'Novelization after 1989.'
  • 2013, University of Warwick, 'What is the "World" in the World Novel?'
  • 2013, University of Leeds, 'A Non-Synchronous Contemporaneity: Novel Worlds after 1989,'
  • 2013, University of Cambridge, 'Networks and Assemblages: Novelization in Our Time'
  • 2013, University of Queensland, 'Humanitarian Scripts in the World Novel.'
  • 2012, University of Oxford, Wadham College, 'Hypermediated Deathworlds: New Wars, The World Novel and Exorbitant Witnessing'
  • 2012, University of Toronto, Centre for Diaspora and Translational Studies, 'Novelisation and Witnessing in the Era of Humanitarian Wars'
  • 2012, Duke University, 'Deathworlds and the Global Novel', invited panel convener for biennial conference on 'Novel Worlds' convened by the Society for Novel Studies, 26-28 April
  • 2011, University of Cambridge, 'What is the "World" in World Literature', plenary address at the 'Future University' conference, at CRAASSH, 1 July
  • 2011, Duke University, 'Global Humanities: An Antipodean Perspective', Franklin Humanities Institute, 7 April
  • 2010, Brown University, 'Translation and Incommensurability', CHCI Annual Conference, 16 June, panel coordinator and invited speaker.
  • 2010, University of Michigan, 'The World Novel, Distant Suffering and the Humanitarian Imagination after 1989', Institute for the Humanities, 26 March, 2010, invited speaker and fellow
  • 2010, University of Chicago, 'The Language Question in Postcolonial India', Centre for South Asia Studies, 8 April, invited speaker and fellow
  • 2009, Stanford University, Humanities Centre, 'Rethinking World Literature', 15 December, invited speaker


This Thing Called the World, Duke University Press, 2016