Professor Michèle Barrett is a noted social theorist, a distinguished Virginia Woolf scholar and an expert on aspects of the social and cultural history of the First World War.
After training as a sociologist at the University of Durham, and taking an MA in the Sociology of Art and Literature at Sussex, Michèle Barrett completed her doctorate at Sussex in 1976 with a thesis entitled ‘A Theory of Modernism and English Society Between the Wars, with special reference to Virginia Woolf’. Michèle was amongst the first to emphasise Virginia Woolf’s use of materialist arguments in her non-fiction, and to establish and discuss both the modernist aesthetic and also the political and historical content and force of her novels. During the period of her doctoral studies Michèle also acted as research assistant to Olivier Bell, helping with the preparation of Woolf’s diaries for publication.
Michèle subsequently edited and introduced the collection Virginia Woolf: Women and Writing in 1979, the publication of which is widely recognized as a pivotal moment in the development of feminist Woolf criticism. Michèle was a member of the ‘Marxist Feminist Literature Collective’ and co-authored their ground breaking paper, ‘Women’s Writing: Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’, which was collectively presented at the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature in 1977.
In the 1980s Michèle moved into an engagement with Marxist ideas and their vexed relation to feminism. Her 1980 study Women’s Oppression Today: Problems in Marxist Feminist Analysis has had many UK printings and was published with a new foreword in 1985 and republished in 1988. It has also been translated into German, Swedish, Finnish and Dutch, and extensively anthologised. It is being republished, with a new essay, in 2014. During this period Michèle also published several significant statements of socialist feminist ideas and analysis in collaboration with Mary McIntosh, including The Anti-social Family (1982) and ‘Ethnocentrism and Socialist-Feminist Theory’ (1985).
Michèle Barrett has also made contributions to the analysis of post-structuralist thought. Her particular interest in theories of ideology developed into a comparative study of the concepts of ‘ideology’ and ‘discourse’ in social and cultural theory. This was published as ‘The Politics of Truth: From Marx to Foucault’ in 1991.
Having joined the Department of Sociology at City University, London in 1975 first as a Lecturer, then as Senior Lecturer, Michèle Barrett became Professor in the department in 1989. She was also Department Head between 1988 and 1994 and Director of a Centre for Research on Gender, Ethnicity and Social Change between 1990 and 1996. Before becoming Head of the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary in 2009, a post she held for a 4 year term, Michèle held various other roles. These include Director of Graduate Research and Convenor of the Modern MA at Queen Mary.
Michèle Barrett’s professional activities extend beyond these University roles and she is an actively involved in scholarly organisations and sits on the editorial boards of various journals. She has been involved in various capacities with the British Sociological Association since 1975 and between 1993 and 1995 was its President. She is currently an ongoing Honorary Vice-President of the BSA. She was a founding member of the editorial collective of Feminist Review, and has acted as a board member and referee for numerous other journals. Between 1984 and 1992 Michèle was one of the editors of the Verso book series ‘Questions for Feminism’, which included books by distinguished feminist scholars and also embraced new approaches.
Since joining the English department at Queen Mary in 2000, Michèle has been awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship to study shell shock, and a British Academy grant to research the colonial politics of World War One commemoration. These research projects have led to various publications including a book entitled Casualty Figures: How Five Men Survived the First World War, published in 2007; an article considering the Freudianization of shell shock in Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy in Contemporary Literature (August 2012); and a book chapter published in 2014: ‘”White Graves” and “Natives”: The Imperial War Graves Commission in East and West Africa’.
In addition to her work on the First World War, Michèle has recently undertaken a project focusing of Virginia Woolf’s research notes for her husband’s 1920 study Empire and Commerce in Africa, held in the Leonard Woolf Papers at the University of Sussex. An article on Virginia Woolf’s neglected contribution to the research for this book was published in Woolf Studies Annual 19 in 2013. Michèle presented a paper on Woolf’s ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’ which included a discussion of this archival work at the international conference ‘Shock and Awe: One Hundred Years of Bombing from Above’ (LSE and Goldsmiths, November 2011). An article written in collaboration with Peter Stallybrass exploring the dynamic relationship between writing and print in a small family archive combines Barrett’s abiding interest in the memorialisation of the First World War with archival research and was published in History Workshop Journal 75/76 2013.