Dr Leslie Barnes

College Arts & 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, migration and (sexual and emotional) labor in literature and film; 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, where I worked with Professors Françoise Lionnet and Dominic Thomas. 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 twentieth-century and contemporary literary and cinematic narratives that engage with the sex industries of Cambodia and Vietnam. These aesthetic representations, which include works of fiction, life narratives, documentaries, and feature films, construct accounts of the events and experiences suffered by the subjects involved in these industries. They present hybrid aesthetic forms and envision new ways to tell local, often marginalized, histories. Perhaps more importantly, they open up a space for international debate on prostitution, trafficking, and human rights. This project will investigate the place of such stories within the broader social context of narratives on the Southeast Asian sex industry, examining their dissemination, reception, and interpretation. In pursuing these general aims, the project will be guided by the following questions:

  • How have the sex industries in Cambodia and Vietnam been shaped by the particularities of their colonial histories? How do the narrative representations respond to the specifics of these histories?
  • How do aesthetic representations of the sex industries of Southeast Asia frame the broader questions of gender, labour, migration, and human rights in intimate, localized terms? How do these narratives square with those created by scholars, journalists, and government agencies? And how do they reflect the understanding that sex workers themselves have of their situations?
  • How do fiction and creative non-fiction enable us to rethink the search for the truth about the sex industry as well as assumptions that this industry presents a monolithic system? 

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, <i>memory</i> 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

HDR Supervisory panel:

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

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Updated:  17 January 2021 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers