Associate Professor Leslie Barnes

ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Literature In French 200511
  • Postcolonial Studies 200211
  • Comparative Literature Studies 200524
  • Cinema Studies 190201
  • South East Asian Literature (Excl. Indonesian) 200519
  • Migration 160303

Research interests

20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone literature and film (esp. Southeast Asia); gender, labour and migration; trauma and memory studies; fiction and ethnographic representation; immigrant writers and minority discourse, contemporary metafiction in French



I took up my current position as Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University in July 2012. For the previous two years, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of French and Italian at Tulane University in New Orleans, USA. I received my PhD in French and Francophone Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2010. During my PhD, I spent two years in Paris, funded by a Bourse Chateaubriand and a fellowship from the UCLA Asia Institute. Prior to beginning my PhD, I lived in Vietnam for two years, and in addition to French, I speak Vietnamese and Khmer.

Researcher's projects

My research and teaching are sustained by an abiding interest in the possibilities and limitations of narrative, both fictional and nonfictional, in relation to persistently colonial forms of understanding and power relations. The central claim of my first book, Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) is that the development of modern French literature cannot be fully understood without accounting for the influence of colonialism on aesthetic shifts in the hexagon. Based on the notion that neither cultural identity nor cultural production can be given as pure or homogenous, and seeking to develop a new discourse on the French literary “canon” that makes its cultural heterogeneity explicit, the book examines an aspect of modern French literature that has been consistently overlooked in literary histories, namely the relationship between the colonies – their cultures, languages, and people – and formal shifts in French literary production. The readings of the authors offered in the book show that the formal innovations linked to the existentialist novel, the experimental novel, and the contemporary immigrant narrative all had France’s colonial relationship to Vietnam as one of their essential historical conditions. Moreover, by reading André Malraux and Marguerite Duras, two canonical French authors, alongside Linda Lê, an immigrant author who refuses to be pigeonholed as such, the book raises questions about the processes of categorization and exclusion that inform canon-formation and that reinforce the hierarchical relation established when we juxtapose French and francophone literatures.

My current project is a comparative analysis of literary and cinematic narratives that engage with questions of sex work, mobility and human rights in Cambodia and Vietnam. Three general questions guide this project, which brings together the fields of gender and sexuality, comparative literature and film, human rights, and Southeast Asian studies: How, for whom, and under what conditions is sex work in Southeast Asia represented? How do aesthetic representations circulate within broader discursive networks, and how might the complex and unequal encounters that take place within these networks lead to new arrangements of perception and power?  

Available student projects

I am keen to supervise PhD, Masters, and Honours projects in French and francophone and comparative literature, film, and cultural studies. Within Francophone studies, I have specific interests in exilic and (im)migrant literatures, minority discourses, and fiction and ethnographic representation. Much of the literature and film I work with engages questions of authenticity, trauma, and narrative.  

Past supervision topics:

"The Aesthetics of distance in Chris Marker's Sans soleil"
-French cinema, memory studies, place and travel 

"L'Internationale situationniste et la nouvelle vague"
-French cinema, Marxism/Situationist International

"Charlotte Delbo et la poétique de l'horreur: Du silence à la parole"
-Trauma and memory, literature of the Holocaust in French

"'Le travail est une superbe aliénation': L'aliénation corporelle et le capitalisme dans La Réclustion solitaire de Tahar Ben Jelloun"
-Labour and sexuality, North African immigrant communities in France, hospitality 

"Romance nerveuse, ou l'impuissance féminine"
-Gender, trauma, contemporary French metafiction and autofiction


Current student projects

Primary Supervisor:

Scarlette Do, "Land of Sorrows: Postcolonial Melancholia and Vietnamese Films on the American War"


HDR Supervisory panel:

David Fenderson

Chung-Yen Yu, "'The House of Waiting': An Epistolary Novel and Dissertation"



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Updated:  25 May 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers