Irish Studies Würzburg

Workshop: Dr. Alessandra Boller (University of Siegen, Germany), "Strange Encounters? – Irish Short Fiction, the Experience of Migration and (Im)Possible Communities"

Datum: 17.01.2023, 12:00 - 14:00 Uhr
Ort: Online
Vortragende:r: Dr. Alessandra Boller

Calls for decentring whiteness are becoming increasingly louder in Irish media and culture as well as academia today. This development seems surprising, considering that in the late 1980s, aspects of Irish life and identity were still framed in terms of ‘blackness’ in Roddy Doyle’s novel The Commitments (1986) and its film adaptation, for instance. Such cultural depictions highlight how ‘whiteness,’ which became an integral pattern of hegemonic discourse during the Celtic Tiger period, and “blackness” are frames of mind and patterns of thought and thus not necessarily tied to skin colour.

Although Ireland traditionally was an emigration country, its society has never been homogeneously ‘white.’ Its multiethnicity, however, only became undeniably visible – and acknowledged – in the late 1990s. Today, Afro-Irish writers, for example, play an increasingly important role in the cultural and literary life of Ireland. Nevertheless, the success of authors such as Melatu Uche Okorie, or of spoken-word performer FeliSpeaks can hardly veil the limited access to mainstream publishing Afro-Irish creative artists still experience. Their fascinating work is in itself worth paying attention to, but it also makes a case for the expansion of possibilities of representation – which also includes the necessity to break open the canon of Irish literature.

Proceeding from the idea of narrative of community as defined by Sandra Zagarell in the 1980s, my recent work focuses on the polyphonic renegotiation of identities in and through contemporary Irish short fiction that engages with personal and glocal crises. Focussing on the motif of (forced) migration in literature, I aim to find out how the acknowledgment of subjectivity and the recognition of shared experience can enable encounters and possibilities of community building. The combination of a historical approach with Rancière’s work on political aesthetics and Ahmed’s theory of strangers provides an interesting framework for discussing recent Irish short fiction and life writing.

My workshop will be divided into two parts: The initial talk will introduce Rancière’s and Ahmed’s concepts and briefly discuss acts of subjectivization in Post-Celtic Tiger narratives of community. I pay particular attention to how the increasing visibility of Afro-Irish (women) writers can play a vital role in challenging the established distribution of the sensible, i.e. the system of self-evident facts of perception and of forms of in- and exclusion which currently still privileges on whiteness. In the second part of the workshop, we will discuss texts written by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue and Irish-Nigerian Melatu Uche Okorie. Both of them write about migration as experienced by migrants and by the communities migrants leave behind and/or try to enter. Donoghue’s and Okorie’s (auto-)biographically tinted short stories, published in Astray (2012) and This Hostel Life (2018), were accompanied by short essays which comment on these topics from the writers’ own respective perspectives as migrant or asylum seeker. Reading these texts through the lenses introduced during the first part, we will try to find out how “strange encounters” in short fiction and accompanying examples of life writing can give rise to the possibility of recognition and new communities based on shared experience.

Alessandra Boller is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in the department of English Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Siegen, Germany. She is a founding member and the coordinator of the EFACIS centre for Irish Studies at the University of Siegen. She is the author of one monograph (Rethinking ‘the Human’ in Dystopian Times (2018)) and the co-editor of two collective volumes: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse (2016), with Eckart Voigts, and Canadian Ecologies Beyond Environmentalism (2020) with Martin Kuester and Angela Krewani. She has published widely on her different research interests, which include feminist and new materialist approaches to speculative fiction as well as Irish literature since 1900. She is currently especially interested in Irish short fiction, with a particular focus on narratives of community and on short narratives published in early nineteenth-century magazines.

Her articles and book chapters on Irish literature were published in, for instance, Journal of the Short Story in English, Estudios Irlandeses, Interférences littéraires or Silence and Modern Irish Literature. Two other articles will soon be published in an upcoming volume of Irish Studies in Europe and a special issue of the Open Library of Humanities.


If you are interested in participating in this online event, please sign up by sending an email with the subject line “BOLLER” to by January 3, 2023. Please include your full name and affiliation or address. Upon registration, you will receive the assigned readings for the workshop via email attachment. You will also receive a zoom link to the event in due time. 
Please note that the above given email address is used solely for registration purposes. If you want to contact ISWÜ, please use the contact information given below.


Irish Studies Würzburg (ISWÜ)

Prof. Dr. Ina Bergmann & Prof. Dr. Maria Eisenmann,