Paul Gilroy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Paul Gilroy
Paul Gilroy at home in London in 2019
Born (1956-02-16) 16 February 1956 (age 65)
London, England, United Kingdom
EducationUniversity College School
Alma materUniversity of Sussex
University of Birmingham
OccupationProfessor, historian, writer
EmployerLondon South Bank University
University of Essex
Goldsmiths, University of London
Yale University
London School of Economics
King’s College, London
University College London
Spouse(s)Vron Ware
Parent(s)Beryl Gilroy

Paul Gilroy FBA (born 16 February 1956) is a British historian, writer and academic, who is the founding Director of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Race and Racism at University College London.[1] Gilroy is the 2019 winner of the €660,000 Holberg Prize, for "his outstanding contributions to a number of academic fields, including cultural studies, critical race studies, sociology, history, anthropology and African-American studies".[2][3]


Gilroy was born in the East End of London to a Guyanese mother, novelist Beryl Gilroy, and an English father, Patrick, who was a scientist.[4][5] He has a sister, Darla. He was educated at University College School and obtained his bachelor's degree at the University of Sussex in 1978. He moved to Birmingham University, where he completed his PhD in 1986.[6]

Gilroy is a scholar of Cultural Studies and Black Atlantic diasporic culture with interests in the "myriad manifestations of black British culture".[7] He is the author of There Ain't no Black in the Union Jack (1987), Small Acts (1993), The Black Atlantic (1993), Between Camps (2000; also published as Against Race in the United States), and After Empire (2004; published as Postcolonial Melancholia in the United States), among other works. Gilroy was also co-author of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 1970s Britain (1982), a path-breaking, collectively produced volume published under the imprint of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, where he was a doctoral student working with the Jamaican intellectual Stuart Hall. Other members of the group that produced The Empire Strikes Back include Valerie Amos, Hazel Carby and Pratibha Parmar.[8]

Gilroy taught at South Bank University, Essex University, and then for many years at Goldsmiths, University of London, before taking up a tenured post in the US at Yale University, where he was the chair of the Department of African American Studies and Charlotte Marian Saden Professor of Sociology and African American Studies.[9] He was the first holder of the Anthony Giddens Professorship in Social Theory at the London School of Economics before he joined King's College, London in September 2012.[10]

Gilroy worked for the Greater London Council for several years in the 1980s before becoming an academic. During that period, he was associated with the weekly listings magazine City Limits (where he was a contributing editor between 1982 and 1984) and The Wire (where he had a regular column from 1988 to 1991).[11] Other publications he wrote for during this period include New Musical Express, The New Internationalist and New Statesman and Society.[11]

Gilroy is known as a path-breaking scholar and historian of the music of the Black Atlantic diaspora, as a commentator on the politics of race, nation and racism in the UK, and as an archaeologist of the literary and cultural lives of blacks in the western hemisphere. According to the US Journal of Blacks in Higher Education he has been consistently among the most frequently cited black scholars in the humanities and social sciences.[12] He held the top position in the humanities rankings in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Gilroy holds honorary doctorates from the Goldsmiths University of London,[13] the University of Liège 2016,[14] The University of Sussex,[15] and the University of Copenhagen.[16]

In Autumn 2009 he served as Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor at the Centre for Humanities, Utrecht University.[17] Gilroy was awarded a 50th Anniversary Fellowship of Sussex University in 2012.[18] In 2014 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[19] In the same year, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[20] He was elected an international honorary member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in April 2018.[21]

Gilroy is married to the writer, photographer and academic Vron Ware. The couple live in North London, and have two children, Marcus and Cora.

The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness[edit]


Gilroy's 1993 book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness marks a turning point in the study of diasporas.[22] Applying a cultural studies approach, he provides a study of African intellectual history and its cultural construction.[23] Moving away from all cultural forms that could be deemed ethnic absolutism, Gilroy offers the concept of the Black Atlantic as a space of transnational cultural construction.[24] In his book, Gilroy makes the peoples who suffered from the Atlantic slave trade the emblem of his new concept of diasporic peoples. This new concept breaks with the traditional diasporic model based on the idea that diasporic people are separated by a communal source or origin, offering a second model that privileges hybridity.[22] Gilroy's theme of Double Consciousness involves Black Atlantic striving to be both European and Black through their relationship to the land of their birth and their ethnic political constituency being absolutely transformed.[24]

Rather than encapsulating the African-American tradition within national borders, Gilroy recognizes the actual significance of European and African travels of many African-American writers. To prove his point, he re-reads the works of African-American intellectuals against the background of a trans-Atlantic context.[25] Gilroy's concept of the Black Atlantic fundamentally disrupts contemporary forms of cultural nationalism and reopens the field of African-American studies by enlarging the field's interpretive framework.[25]

Gilroy offers a corrective to traditional notions of culture as rooted in a particular nation or history, suggesting instead an analytic that foregrounds movement and exchange. In an effort to disabuse scholars of cultural studies and cultural historians in the UK and the U.S. from assuming a "pure" racial, ethnic, and class-based politics/political history, Gilroy traces two legacies of political and cultural thought that emerge through cross-pollination. Gilroy critiques New Leftists for assuming a purely nationalist identity that in fact was influenced by various Black histories and modes of exchange. Gilroy's initial claim seeks to trouble the assumptive logics of a "pure" western history (canon), offering instead a way to think these histories as mutually constituted and always already entangled.[26]

Gilroy uses the transatlantic slave trade to highlight the influence of "routes" on black identity. He uses the image of a ship to represent how authentic black culture is composed of cultural exchanges since the slave trade stifled blacks' ability to connect to a homeland. He claims that there was a cultural exchange as well as a commodity exchange that defines the transatlantic slave trade and thus black culture. In addition, he discusses how Black people and Black cultures were written out of European countries and cultures via the effort to equate white people with institutions and cultures, which causes whiteness to be conflated with Europe as a country and Black people being ignored and excluded. This causes Blackness and "Europeanness" to be viewed as separate entities lacking symbiosis. Whiteness and Europeanness even went so far as to create a culture such that Blackness becomes a threat to the sanctity of these European cultures. To further an understanding of this, one can think of how race is a taboo subject in Germany, which allows Blackness to never be introduced as a dimension of what it means to be German, allowing Black people and their struggles with racism to be unnamed, unmarked, and ignored.[citation needed]

An example of how Gilroy and his concepts in The Black Atlantic directly affected a specific field of African-American studies is its role in defining and influencing the shift between the political black British movement of the 1960/70s to the 1980/90s.[27] Gilroy came to reject outright the working-class movements of the 1970s and '80s on the basis that the system and logic behind the movements were fundamentally flawed as a result of their roots in the way of thinking that not only ignored race but also the trans-Atlantic experience as an integral part of the black experience and history.[28] This argument is expanded upon in one of his previous co-authored books, The Empire Strikes Back (1983), which was supported by the (now closed) Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies of the University of Birmingham in the UK. The Black Atlantic received an American Book Award in 1994. The book has subsequently been translated into Italian, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. The influence of the study is generally accepted to be profound, though academics continue to debate in exactly what form its greatest significance may lie.[29]

The theoretical use of the ocean as a liminal space alternative to the authority of nation-states has been highly generative in diasporic studies, in spite of Gilroy's own desire to avoid such conflations.[30] The image of water and migration has been taken up as well by later scholars of the Black diaspora, including Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Isabel Hofmeyr, and Stephanie E. Smallwood, who expand Gilroy's theorizations by engaging questions of queerness, transnationality, and the middle passage.[31]

Academic responses and criticisms[edit]

Among the academic responses to Gilroy's Black Atlantic thesis are: Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato, and George Elliott Clarke's "Must All Blackness Be American? Locating Canada in Borden's 'Tightrope Time,' or Nationalizing Gilroy's The Black Atlantic" (1996, Canadian Ethnic Studies 28.3).[32]

Additionally, scholar Tsiti Ella Jaji discusses Gilroy and his conceptualization of the Black Atlantic as the "inspiration and provocation" for her 2014 book Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity.[33] While finding Gilroy’s discussion of music in the Black diaspora compelling and inspiring, Jaji has two main points of contention that provoked her to critique and to dissect his theories, the first being his failure to include continental Africa in this space of music production, creating an understanding of black diaspora that is exclusive of Africa.

Jaji's second point is that Gilroy fails to examine the role that gender plays in Black music production. Jaji discusses how Gilroy's The Black Atlantic, while enriching our collective understanding of trans-Atlantic Black cultural exchange, devalues the incorporation of gender into his analysis, as can be seen in chapter one of The Black Atlantic, where Gilroy says: "Black survival depends upon forging a new means to build alliances above and beyond petty issues like language, religion, skin colour, and to a lesser extent gender."[34] Further, Gilroy did not include female voices in his discussion of music and trans-Atlantic Black cultural exchange, which Jaji argues contributes to a gendered understanding of pan-Africanism that is largely male-dominated.

An additional academic response to Gilroy's work is by scholar Julian Henriques. Gilroy concludes the first chapter of his book The Black Atlantic Modernity and Double Consciousness with the quote: "social self-creation through labour is not the centre-piece of emancipatory hopes....Artistic expression...therefore becomes the means towards both individual self-fashioning and communal liberation" (Gilroy, 40).[35] This quote about the liberatory potential of art as a transatlantic cultural product. Gilroy argues that for Black people forms of culture take on a heightened meaning in light of Black persons being excluded from representation in the traditional political apparatus. As such, Gilroy argues that culture is the mode through which Black persons should aspire to liberation. In working to understand Black culture, Gilroy implores us as readers to focus on routes of movement of Black persons and Black cultural production as opposed to focusing on roots of origin. However, scholar Julian Henriques argues Gilroy's focus on routes in itself is limiting to our understanding of the Black diaspora. Henriques introduces the idea of propagation of vibration, described as the diffusion of a spectrum of frequencies through a variety of media, in his paper Sonic diaspora, vibrations, and rhythm: thinking through the sounding of the Jamaican dancehall session (Henriques, 221).[36] This theory of the propagation of vibrations provides language to understand the diffusion of vibrations beyond the material (accessible) sonic and musical fields or the physical circulation of objects that can be tracked through Gilroy's routes. Henriques described vibrations as having corporeal (kinetic) and ethereal (meaning based) qualities that can be diffused similarly to the accessible fields, and argues that Gilroy's routes language does not encapsulate these frequencies of vibrations (224–226).[35] When considered together, Henriques and Gilroy's writing suggests that these plethora of vibrational frequencies propagate through the Black diaspora as part of Black musical production, with the potential to be used as a mode of liberatory practice.

Selected awards[edit]



  1. ^ Professor Paul Gilroy. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  2. ^ Sandmo, Ole (13 March 2019). "2019 Holberg Prize and Nils Klim Prize Laureates Announced". Holbergprisen. Retrieved 14 March 2019.[dead link]
  3. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (14 March 2019). "Paul Gilroy, Scholar of the Black Atlantic, Wins Holberg Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  4. ^ Fraser, Peter D., "Beryl Gilroy", The Guardian, 18 April 2001.
  5. ^ Williams, Paul, Paul Gilroy (Routledge Critical Thinkers), Routledge, 2013 (ISBN 978-0415583978), p. 19.
  6. ^ Corr, John, "Paul Gilroy", in Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth and Imre Szeman (eds), Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory: The Johns Hopkins Guide, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012, pp. 240–44.
  7. ^ Lane, Richard J. Fifty Key Literary Theorists. London: Routledge, 2006, p. 138.
  8. ^ "Meeting Stuart Hall": Reflections on cultural theorist Stuart Hall. By Sara Ahmed, Gargi Bhattacharyya, Yasmin Gunaratnam, Vera Jocelyn, Patricia Noxolo, Pratibha Parmar, Ann Phoenix, Nirmal Puwar, Suzanne Scafe. Curated by Yasmin Gunaratnam for Media Diversified. OpenDemocracy, 20 February 2014.
  9. ^ "Paul Gilroy is designated as the Charlotte Marion Saden Professor" Archived 7 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Yale Bulletin & Calendar, Volume 32, Number 31, 4 June 2004.
  10. ^ "Academic Staff: Professor Paul Gilroy", King's College London.
  11. ^ a b Paul Gilroy Curriculum Vitae. Archived 12 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "JBHE's Annual Citation Rankings of Black Scholars in the Social Sciences and the Humanities", The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2009.
  13. ^ "Honorary degrees of the University of London, conferred at Goldsmiths' College", Goldsmiths University of London.
  14. ^ "Paul Gilroy", Université de Liège.
  15. ^ Tremlett, Rose,"University of Sussex graduation brings record numbers to Brighton", University of Sussex, 18 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Welcome to Zhang Xihua and Paul Gilroy", Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen, 7 November 2019.
  17. ^ "Prof. Paul Gilroy first Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor", Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University, 27 August 2009.
  18. ^ "50th Fellowships", University of Sussex.
  19. ^ Else, Holly, "British Academy announces 42 new fellows", The Times Higher Education, 18 July 2014. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  20. ^ "Paul Gilroy". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  21. ^ "British Academy President and Fellows elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences". British Academy. 20 April 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  22. ^ a b Chivallon, Christine. "Beyond Gilroy's Black Atlantic: The Experience of the African Diaspora". Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (Winter 2002): pp. 359–382 (p. 359).
  23. ^ Barnes, Natasha. "Black Atlantic: Black America", Research in African Literatures, 27, n. 4 (Winter 1996): p. 106.
  24. ^ a b Braziel, Jana Evans, and Anita Mannur, Theorizing Diaspora. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 49.
  25. ^ a b Erickson, Peter. Reviews. African American Review, Vol. 31, Issue 3 (Fall 1997): p. 506.
  26. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Verso Books. p. 15. ISBN 9780860916758.
  27. ^ Shukra, Kalbir. "The Death of a Black Political Movement", Community Development Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July 1997): p. 233.
  28. ^ Shukra (1997), p. 234.
  29. ^ Evans, Lucy, "The Black Atlantic: Exploring Gilroy's Legacy", in Dave Gunning and Abigail Ward (eds), Tracing Black America in Black British Culture, Special Issue of Atlantic Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2 (August 2009), pp. 255–68.
  30. ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes. "The Uses of Diaspora". Social Text 66(19): 2001, 45–73.
  31. ^ Tinsley, Omise’eke Natasha. "Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 14(2–3): 2008, 191–215.; Hofmeyr, Isabel. "The Black Atlantic Meets the Indian Ocean: Forging New Paradigms of Transnatinalism for the Global South – Literary and Cultural Perspectives", Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies, 33(2):2008, 37–41; Smallwood, Stephanie, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  32. ^ Clarke, George Elliott, "Must All Blackness Be American?: Locating Canada in Borden's 'Tightrope Time,' or Nationalizing Gilroy's The Black Atlantic", Athabasca University, 11 October 2012.
  33. ^ Jaji, Tsitsi (2014). Africa in stereo : modernism, music, and pan-African solidarity. Oxford University Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780199936380. OCLC 1039085133.
  34. ^ Patrić, A. S. (2017). Atlantic black. Melbourne, Victoria: Transit Lounge. p. 28. ISBN 9780995409828. OCLC 980586261.
  35. ^ a b Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Harvard University Press.
  36. ^ Henriques, Julian (2008). "Sonic diaspora, vibrations, and rhythm: Thinking thorugh the sounding of the Jamacian dancehall session" (PDF). African and Black Diaspora. 1 (2): 215–236. doi:10.1080/17528630802224163. S2CID 14966354.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]