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Associate Researchers

Sandra Young

I have a distinct recollection of a moment in an English Honours class in 1991 when I first recognised how effectively literary analysis can unsettle meanings that had previously seemed fixed and stable. We were reading Freud’s ‘Dora: a case of hysteria’ in ways which made it possible to revise conceptions of gendered identity and to recognise the troublingly patriarchal limitations of the text and the discipline it was helping to set up. I saw that reading texts closely and critically could function as a form of activism, of sorts, unsettling the academy’s certainties. By the end of that semester I had abandoned my plans to return to Law. The work of cultural studies seemed much more compelling.

I received my PhD from Rutgers University a few years too many after I began there as a Fulbright student with a research MA from UCT. I returned with a newborn baby and an altered internal compass, as well as a degree. Graduate studies introduced me to the pleasures of North-American style intellectual engagement – and the delights of living in New York, even as a cash-strapped, newly-wed grad student. But Cape Town is home and I feel privileged to be able to live and work here, as we do in this city, within sight of the mountain.

I am still exploring how disciplinary knowledge is constituted and its impacts on relations of power. I am interested in the emergence of the early modern global south and have examined the role of the period’s ‘scholarly’ texts (geographies, maps and natural histories) in attributing alterity to the ‘southern parts’ of the world in terms that derived from cartography’s seemingly unchanging coordinates. My first book, The Early Modern Global South in Print: Textual Form and the Production of Human Difference as Knowledge, is due to appear within Ashgate’s special series on ‘Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity’ in 2015. Here, and elsewhere, I explore the relationship between textual form, systems of knowledge and relations of power: for example, a recent article considers the use of woodcut images in creating the racialised imaginary associated with the very first accounts of Africa and the New World. Another compares two textual forms of Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the Newfoundland of Virginia to consider how a text’s structure authorises a particular history and makes visible – or not – the violence of colonization.

I am interested, too, in how relations of dominance continue to manifest themselves in contemporary South Africa and in the problematics of archive, memory and trauma. I have published on women's prison writing under apartheid and on the testimonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As extraordinary as the TRC was, I find it hard not to be skeptical about the way it was taken up by a nation eager to claim forgiveness and 'move on'. That skepticism emerged in a recent article in Research in African Literatures which explores the idea of ‘hospitality’ in the post-apartheid archive – the impulse to welcome into the ‘new nation’ what seems strange and difficult to accommodate within existing schema of citizenship and history. My book project is tentatively titled ‘Intimacy in the Archive: Life Narrative in the Aftermath of Apartheid’.

As an early modernist I study critical approaches to Shakespeare and his ongoing cultural life across the global south. I am especially interested in the ways Shakespeare’s plays have been reanimated and transformed within Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean world, and Latin America. I am working on a book manuscript titled ‘Shakespeare and the Global South’. Recent research includes an article on the figure of the outsider in Othello and essays on ‘Shakespeare without Borders’ and ‘Recognising Hamlet’. 

Some of my publications can be accessed at


The Early Modern Global South in Print: Textual Form and the Production of Human Difference as Knowledge. Ashgate’s special series on ‘Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity’, in production. Forthcoming, 2015. 

Peer-Reviewed Essays 

‘The “secrets of nature” and early modern constructions of a global south'. Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies 15.3 (2015, forthcoming).

‘Early modern geography and the construction of a knowable Africa’. Atlantic Studies: Global Currents 12.4 (2015, forthcoming).

‘Method or Madness? The Vicissitudes of “Global Shakespeare”’. Safundi 15.1 (March 2014): 133-137.

‘Envisioning the peoples of “new” worlds: early modern woodcut images and the inscription of human difference’. English Studies in Africa 57.1 (May 2014): 33-56. Special issue on Textual Commodities of Empire.

‘Recognising Hamlet’. Shakespeare in Southern Africa 26 (2014): 13-26.

‘Rehearsing trauma: the reader as interrogator in prison narratives’. Journal of Literary Studies 29.2 (July 2013): 101-116. Special issue on Mending Wounds.

‘Hospitality in a post-apartheid archive: reflections on There Was This Goat and the challenge of alterity’. Research in African Literatures 43.2 (Summer 2012): 115-137.

‘Imagining alterity and belonging on the English stage in an age of expansion: a reading of Othello’. Shakespeare in Southern Africa 23 (July 2011): 21-29. Special issue on Banishment, Xenophobia, Home and Exile in Shakespeare and the Renaissance. 

‘Narrating colonial violence and representing new-world difference: the possibilities of form in Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report’. Safundi 11.4 (October 2010): 343-361.

‘“Let your indulgence set me free”: reflections on an “Africanised” Tempest and its implications for critical practice’. Social Dynamics 36.2 (June 2010): 315-327.

‘Pain and the struggle for self-restoration: the prison narratives of Ruth First, Caesarina Kona Makhoere and Emma Mashinini’. English Studies in Africa: Futures of Trauma 52.1 (May 2009): 88-101.

‘Narrative and healing in the hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.’ Biography special issue: Personal Effects: Testimonial Uses of Life Writing 27.1 (Winter 2004): 143-159.

Winner of the Foerster Prize for the best essay published in American Literature in 2001, awarded at the MLA: ‘A soliloquy “Lately Spoken at the African Theatre”: race and the public sphere in New York City, 1821.’ Co-authored with Michael Warner, Natasha Hurley, Luis Iglesias, Sonia di Loreto, and Jeffrey Scraba. American Literature 73.1 (March 2001): 1-46. 

Peer-reviewed book chapters 

‘Shakespeare in Africa’ in The Shakespearean World. Ed. Robert Ormsby and Jill Levenson. New York: Routledge, 2015 (forthcoming).

‘How Hamlet Became Modern’ in Great Texts/Big Questions. Ed. Imraan Coovadia, Alexandra Dodd and Cóilín Parsons. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2015 (forthcoming).

‘Shakespeare without Borders’ in South African Essays on ‘Universal’ Shakespeare. Ed. Christopher Thurman. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. 39-52.