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Robert F. Barsky, Vanderbilt University
Over the past thirty years, Robert Barsky’s interdisciplinary work has addressed critical challenges in such realms as forced migration, homelessness, and poverty. His new book, ‘Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us About People Fleeing From Persecution’ (Hart Law / Bloomsbury) “combines the 'Great Books' of world literature with contemporary legal tenets to explore the complexity of their predicament, demonstrating that, throughout history, many individuals follow the ancient tradition of hospitality and protect migrants, but, swayed by populist identity politics, many societies blame migrants for their ills, foster hostile environments and show 'mountainish inhumanity'." (François Crépeau, Professor of Public International Law, McGill University). His 2016 book, ‘Undocumented Immigrants in an Era of Arbitrary Law: The Flight and Plight of Peoples Deemed Illegal’, was shortlisted for the 2016 Hart Socio-Legal Book Prize for the most outstanding piece of socio-legal scholarship of the year, worldwide.
Barsky’s work on migration and border studies is further documented in articles, chapters and policy papers, including in his first book, ‘Constructing a Productive Other: Discourse Theory and the Convention Refugee Hearing’ (1994) and in ‘Arguing and Justifying: Assessing the Convention Refugees’ Choice of Moment, Motive and Host Country’ (2001). His broad interest in language theory is set forth in ‘Introduction à la théorie littéraire’ (1997), a wide-ranging survey of literary theories. His approach to social justice has been influenced by a longstanding engagement with the milieus of Noam Chomsky and Zellig Harris, including a trilogy of books published by MIT Press: ‘Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent’ (1997, translated into 12 languages); ‘The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower’ (2008, translated into Korean) and ‘Zellig Harris: From American Linguistics to Socialist Zionism’ (2011). Prof. Barsky is completing a fourth book (and accompanying documentary film), which documents the remarkable language and political work undertaken by a small student Zionist organization called Avukah.
Barsky has founded four journals: as an undergraduate at Brandeis University, he founded ‘415 South Street’, a literary magazine; as a graduate student at McGill University, he founded (with Marc Angenot) ‘Discours social/Social Discourse’ which highlights sociocritique and social discourse approaches; as the Visiting Canadian Bicentennial Professor at Yale University he created an on-line open access border-crossing journal called ‘AmeriQuests: Narrative, Law and Society’ (www.ameriquests.org), and he has just launched ‘Contours Collaborations: Border Crossings in Art and Humanities (https://contours.pubpub.org/about).
Barsky’s work has been published and reviewed in influential journals and monographs around the world, and he has held numerous visiting positions, at Yale University, University of Memphis Law School, the Free University of Amsterdam Law School and at the Institutes for Advanced Studies at the University of Edinburgh and in Toulouse. He has led several large-scale research projects that engaged trainees with communities of Convention refugees, undocumented migrants, and homeless people. His work has been supported by agencies and institutions in the US, Canada, Holland, France, Italy, Switzerland and England, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Canadian Bar Association, the SSHRC, the FCAR, the Department of Canadian Heritage, Multiculturalism Canada, the Dutch Royal Academy, the French Consulate, and the Belgian Fonds de la Recherche Fondamentale Collective.