Female protester raising her arms during a march

Body politics research

Explore our work in body politics, one of our areas of expertise in English Literature

Questions of national identity and political populism are more relevant than ever – and our body politics research explores the role of bodies in shaping the concepts which underpin these debates.

Changes in digital technology mean that bodies interact with cultural forms in new ways. Our research is exploring how cultural forms since the early modern period have conceptualised the body, giving valuable historical context for how the body might transform – and be transformed – by new media.

We look at a range of disciplines, including literary and cultural studies, linguistics, and sociology. We ask questions around the role that bodies play in the formation of identity, how the body is presented through performance, and how cultural representations of bodies have changed over time. We're also exploring the role that bodies play in the construction of concepts such as crime, celebrity, race, and the nation.

This area of research considers the body (and its representations) across a range of disciplines, including literary and cultural studies, linguistics, and sociology.

Our work covers the following key topics


  • Understandings of literal and metaphorical bodies from the sixteenth century to the present day
  • Cultural constructions of the body in relation to identity, gender, sexuality, race, crime, law, performance, food/consumption and celebrity
  • Queer theory
  • The relationship between time and the body
  • Body and mind/soul/spirituality
  • Corporeality and incorporeality
  • Natural and supernatural phenomena
  • The metaphorical bodies of the nation and the body politic

We use literary, medical, scientific, philosophical, legal, pictorial, photographic, digital and performance material, and look at how they influence and engage with each other.

Partnerships and funding

Our work has been used by Portsmouth City Council to inform their literary strategy – 'the home of great writing.' We've also created literary tourism resources in relation to Tennyson and the Isle of Wight.

We've collaborated with local museums and galleries. Being Human: Disappearing Acts saw us work with Wymering Manor Trust and the Dickens Birthplace Museum.

We also collaborated with Portsmouth City Council on the AHRC funded project Possession and Obsession (2013–16), working with the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection (Lancelyn Green Bequest).

We've received funding from the following:

  • AHRC, Possession and Obsession, May 2013 — £58K
  • Being Human Festival (AHRC/British Academy), c. £2000 between 2015–18
  • AHRC, Emily Dickinson and Victorian Poetry, 2012 — £28,506

Discover our areas of expertise

Body politics is one of our 4 areas of expertise in our English Literature research area. Explore the others below.

Culture, community and heritage

We're examining how communities are formed — and sometimes disintegrated — through the sharing of writing, reading, performance and the literary dissemination of ideas.
Group of women protesting dressed as characters from The Handmaids Tale
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Modern literature

We're studying literature written in or translated into English, from across the globe and within different genres, from the Renaissance to the present.
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Time, space and environment

We're exploring representations of time, space and environment in literature and culture – from the eighteenth century to the present day.
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Research groups

Centre for Studies in Literature

We're researching the history and culture of the English speaking world through literature.


Body Politics Research Group

We're researching the literal and metaphorical bodies from sixteenth century to the present day.

Interested in a PhD in English Literature?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Literary Studies postgraduate research degrees page.