Sarah Arens

Imagining Brussels: Memory, Mobility, and Space in Francophone Diasporic Writing

  • PhD French
  • School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Contact details


Please not that I completed my PhD in 2017 and am currently working as a Lecturer in French at the University of St Andrews. 

My doctoral thesis examined representations of the city of Brussels in contemporary Francophone diasporic literature. I  am particularly interested in the numerous ways in which experiences of violence, migration, and displacement shape the experience of the urban space. My doctoral project was supervised by Dr Susan Bainbrigge and funded by the University of Edinburgh LLC PhD Scholarship award in Francophone Belgian Culture and the 2014 DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Scholarship award for doctoral researchers. My wider research interests include literary writing of migration, exile, and displacement in French and German, memory studies, Jewish and postcolonial studies, nationalism, terrorism, the environment and (failed) states. I am also a volunteer translator at The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London and the incoming editor for the Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies (the journal of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies:

Before joining St Andrews, I was a Postdoctoral Research Assistant for the AHRC-funded research project 'African Reading Cultures: Popular Print in Francophone Africa' ( at the University of Bristol with Dr Ruth Bush and have worked with her and Dr Claire Durcournau (CNRS/Montpellier III) on compiling an online archive for African magazines, including AWA, the first women's magazine in Francophone Africa: 

At the same time, I was also employed as an Impact Evidence Administrator within the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.

I have studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, the University of York, and Saarland University in Germany and have worked as a research assistant for several higher-education institutions, including Yale University and Edinburgh's Centre for Cultural Relations. I am an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and, prior to joining St Andrews, have taught French and Francophone literature, film, critical theory, and language at Edinburgh and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

In 2015, I co-organised three conferences:

· ‘Reparations and beyond …’, 5-7 November 2015, University of Edinburgh (with Dr Nicki Frith and Prof. Joyce Hope Scott),

· ‘Crime Fiction and Community’, 10 July 2015, University of Edinburgh (with Sarah Bernstein),

· and the annual ‘Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Postgraduate Study Day’, 30 May 2015 at Queen’s University Belfast (with David Cummings).

I'm a founding member of the ‘Intersections and Borderlines’ reading group and have been a peer-reviewer for FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & the Arts. Moreover, I have served as treasurer and co-organiser of LLC Work-in-Progress seminar series.



  • Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.          


  • M.A. (Magistra artium) in French, American Studies, and English Literature from Saarland University, Germany.


Responsibilities & affiliations

  • Former Postgraduate representative (2014-2016) and member of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies.
  • Member of the Association for Jewish Studies.
  • Member of the Society for French Studies.
  • Member of the Association for African Literature.
  • Volunteer translator for The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, London.

Undergraduate teaching

At Edinburgh, I am currently teaching on the following undergraduate courses:

French 1B Literature and Civilisation (20th-century literature, film, politics, and critical theory)

French 1B Language

French 2 Literature (12th - to 19th-century literature)

Peer-reviewed journal articles

‘Narrating the (Post-)Nation? Aspects of the Local and the Global in Francophone Congolese Writing’, Research in African Literatures, special issue on ‘Interrogating the “Post-Nation” in African Literary Writing: Globalities and Localities’, ed. by Madhu Krishnan (forthcoming spring 2018).

‘Les géographies transculturelles et postcoloniales: Bruxelles dans les écritures de Mina Oualdlhadj et de Pie Tshibanda’, Textyles 47 (2015), pp. 159-174. Available online:

With David Cummings, ‘Introduction: Memory/Amnesia and (Post)Colonialism’, Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies 6, special issue (2015), pp. 6-9. Available online:


Special issues (co-edited)

With Kate Marsh and David Cummings (eds.), Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies 6, special issue (2015).


Book chapters

‘From Mobutu to Molenbeek: Belgium and Postcolonialism’, in Postcolonial Europe: Comparative Reflections after the Empires, ed. by Lars Jensen, Julia Suárez-Krabbe, Christian Groes-Green and Zoran Lee Pecic (forthcoming, London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

‘De Mobutu à Matonge: la littérature contemporaine de la diaspora congolaise’, in Créer en postcolonie. Voix et dissidences belgo-congolaises, ed. by Sarah Demart and Gia Abrassart (Brussels: Bozar Books, 2016), pp. 225-232.


Book reviews

Review of Filippo Zanghi, Zone indécise: Périphéries urbaines et voyage de proximité dans la littérature contemporaine (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2014), French Studies 69 (2015), p. 571. Available online:

Review of János Riesz, Südlich der Sahara: Afrikanische Literatur in französischer Sprache (Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 2013), Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies 6 (2015), pp. 20-21. Available online:


Other publications

• ‘(Peer-)Teaching Postcolonial Studies: Workshop at the University of Edinburgh’, Northern Postcolonial Network Blog, 25 February 2016. 



  • 'From Mobutu to Molenbeek: Cultural Translation in Contemporary Belgian Ethnic-Minority Writing in French', Colloquium: ‘BeLgoLab 2017: Belgian Translations’, 7 March 2017, Institute for Modern Language Research, University of London (invited). 
  • 'Environmental Witnessing', 'Testimony in Interdisciplinary Perspective' research group meeting, 24 May 2017, University of Edinburgh. 
  • ‘A Grotesque Body Politic? Space, Gender, and Nationalism in Congolese Writing’, African Literature Association Annual Conference, 14-17 June 2017, Yale University, United States (accepted).
  • ‘Of Monsters and Men: The Politics and Poetics of the Grotesque in Post-Independence Congolese Writing’, 58th Annual French Studies Conference, 3–5 July 2017, Durham University (accepted).


  • ‘Memory, Translation, and Complicity in Sebald’s Austerlitz’, guest talk and student workshop, 14 July 2016, Saarland University, Germany. Invited.
  • ‘Decolonising the Atomium: Writing a transnational Brussels’, French Research Seminar, 2 March 2016, University of Chester. Invited.
  • ‘Imagining Brussels: Diasporic Writing and the Transnational Urban Space’, Edinburgh French Research Seminar, 24 February 2016, University of Edinburgh. Invited.              


  • ‘From Tangier to Palmyra: Francophone Writing from North Africa and the Middle East and Postcolonial Studies’, Symposium: ‘Contemporary Middle Eastern Literatures in English/ Translation: Critical Prisms for Postcolonial Studies’, 5 December 2015, Queen Mary, University of London. Invited.
  • ‘Postcolonial (Im)Mobilities: Brussels in Contemporary Black Belgian Writing’, Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Annual Conference, 13-14 November 2015, IMLR, University of London, UK. Accepted.
  • ‘Black Brussels:  Haitian and Congolese Diaspora Writing in ‘Europe’s Capital’, Conference: Interpreting Communities: Minority Writing in European Literary Fields, 29-30 October 2015, IMLR, University of London. Accepted.  
  • ‘Negotiating Space and Transnational Memories in Patrick François’ La dernière larme du lac Kivu’, Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Postgraduate Study Day, 30 May 2015, Queen’s University Belfast. Organised.
  • ‘Haiti, Belgium, Congo: Traversing Francophone Postcolonial Spaces in Patrick François' La dernière larme du lac Kivu (2011)’, The Edge of Words Study Day: Belgium and Postcolonial Paradigms, 15 May 2015, University of Edinburgh. Invited.
  • ‘Decolonising the Atomium: Diasporic writing in Brussels’, University of Edinburgh Diaspora Studies Graduate Workshop, 3 March 2015, University of Edinburgh. Invited.


  • ‘Negotiating Public Space in postcolonial Brussels’, Interdisciplinary Seminar of the Franco-Scottish Research Network, 4-5 December 2014, Institut Français, Edinburgh. Invited.
  • ‘From Mobutu to Matongé: Commemorating Katanga’s ethnic violence in Pie Tshibanda’s Un fou noir au pays des Blancs (1999)’, Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Annual Conference, 21-22 November 2014, IMLR, University of London. Accepted.
  • ‘Postcolonial Geographies: Brussels in contemporary Belgian Francophone Fiction’, The Edge of Words Study Day: Public Space, 16 May 2014, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh. Organised.
  • ‘What you have to do is hustle’: On the connections between neoliberalism and urban violence in the works of Wilfried N’Sondé and China Miéville’, Triennial Conference of European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (EACLALS), 14-18 April 2015, University of Innsbruck, Austria. Accepted.
  • ‘Neoliberalism and Urban Violence in the works of Wilfried N’Sondé and China Miéville’, Conference: “You were not expected to do this”: On the Dynamics of Production (Distraction/Interference - Resistance/Accident), 2-4 April 2014, Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf, Germany. Accepted.


  • ‘Postcolonial Cities in Francophone Europe’, Postcolonial Studies Research Colloquium, 11 July 2013, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Accepted.
  • ‘C’est vrai, nous avons la haine’: The phenomenology of urban violence in a postcolonial context in the works of Wilfried N’Sondé’, Forum Junge Romanistik (Forum for young researchers in Romance studies) Annual Conference, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nurnberg, Germany. Accepted.
  • ‘The Phenomenology of Urban Violence: Rereading Banlieue Novels from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s’, Postcolonial Studies Workshop, 8 March 2013, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Accepted.