Paul Gilroy

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Paul Gilroy
Paul Gilroy.JPG
Paul Gilroy at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (November 2015)
Born (1956-02-16) 16 February 1956 (age 62)
London, England, United Kingdom
Education University College School
Alma mater University of Sussex
University of Birmingham
Occupation Professor, writer
Employer London South Bank University
University of Essex
Goldsmiths, University of London
Yale University
London School of Economics
King’s College, London
Parent(s) Beryl Gilroy

Paul Gilroy FBA (born 16 February 1956) is a British historian, writer and academic, who is Professor of American and English Literature at King's College, London.


Paul Gilroy was born in the East End of London to Guyanese and English parents (his mother was novelist Beryl Gilroy).[1] He was educated at University College School and obtained his bachelor's degree at the University of Sussex in 1978. He moved to Birmingham University, where he completed his PhD in 1986.[2]

Gilroy is a scholar of Cultural Studies and Black Atlantic diasporic culture with interests in the "myriad manifestations of black British culture".[3] He is the author of There Ain't no Black in the Union Jack (1987), Small Acts (1993), The Black Atlantic (1993), Between Camps (2000; also published as Against Race in the United States), and After Empire (2004; published as Postcolonial Melancholia in the United States), among other works. Gilroy was also co-author of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 1970s Britain (1982), a path-breaking, collectively produced volume published under the imprint of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, where he was a doctoral student working with the Jamaican intellectual Stuart Hall. Other members of the group that produced The Empire Strikes Back include Valerie Amos and Pratibha Parmar.

Gilroy taught at South Bank University, Essex University, and then for many years at Goldsmiths, University of London, before taking up a tenured post in the US at Yale University, where he was the chair of the Department of African American Studies and Charlotte Marian Saden Professor of Sociology and African American Studies.[4] He was the first holder of the Anthony Giddens Professorship in Social Theory at the London School of Economics before he joined King's College, London in September 2012.[5]

Gilroy worked for the Greater London Council for several years in the 1980s before becoming an academic. During that period, he was associated with the weekly listings magazine City Limits (where he was a contributing editor between 1982 and 1984) and The Wire (where he had a regular column from 1988 to 1991).[6] Other publications he wrote for during this period include New Musical Express, The New Internationalist and New Statesman and Society.[6]

Gilroy is known as a path-breaking scholar and historian of the music of the Black Atlantic diaspora, as a commentator on the politics of race, nation and racism in the UK, and as an archaeologist of the literary and cultural lives of blacks in the western hemisphere. According to the US Journal of Blacks in Higher Education he has been consistently among the most frequently cited black scholars in the humanities and social sciences.[7] He held the top position in the humanities rankings in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Gilroy's theories of race, racism and culture were influential in shaping the cultural and political movement of black British people during the 1990s. Along with people like Lenny Henry, Trevor Nelson, Norman Jay, and Ian Wright he has enabled black British people to maintain their native integrity.

Gilroy was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of London by Goldsmiths College in September 2005.[8] In Autumn 2009 he served as Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor at the Centre for Humanities, Utrecht University.[9] Gilroy was awarded a 50th Anniversary Fellowship of Sussex University in 2012.[10] In 2014 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[11] He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liège in 2016.[12] In the same year, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[13] University of Sussex awarded him an honorary doctorate in July 2017.[14] He was elected an international honorary member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in April 2018.[15]

He is married to the writer, photographer and academic Vron Ware. The couple live in North London, and have two children, Marcus and Cora.

The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness

Gilroy's book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993) marks a turning point in the study of diasporas.[16] Applying a cultural studies approach, Gilroy provides a study of African intellectual history and its cultural construction.[17] Moving away from all cultural forms that could be deemed ethnic absolutism, Gilroy offers the concept of the Black Atlantic as a space of transnational cultural construction.[18] In his book, Gilroy makes the peoples who suffered from the Atlantic slave trade the emblem of his new concept of diasporic peoples. This new concept breaks with the traditional diasporic model based on the idea that diasporic people are separated by a communal source or origin, offering a second model that privileges hybridity.[16] Gilroy's theme of Double Consciousness involves Black Atlantic striving to be both European and Black through their relationship to the land of their birth and their ethnic political constituency being absolutely transformed.[18]

Rather than encapsulating the African-American tradition within national borders, Gilroy recognizes the actual significance of European and African travels of many African-American writers. To prove his point, Gilroy re-reads the works of African-American intellectuals against the background of a trans-Atlantic context.[19] Gilroy's concept of the Black Atlantic fundamentally disrupts contemporary forms of cultural nationalism and reopens the field of African-American studies by enlarging the field's interpretive framework.[19]

Gilroy uses the transatlantic slave trade to highlight the influence of "routes" on black identity. He uses the image of a ship to represent how authentic black culture is composed of cultural exchanges since the slave trade stifled blacks' ability to connect to a homeland. He claims that there was a cultural exchange as well as a commodity exchange that defines the transatlantic slave trade and thus black culture. In addition, Gilroy discusses how Black people and Black cultures were written out of European countries and cultures via the effort to equate white people with institutions and cultures, which causes whiteness to be conflated with Europe as a country and Black people being ignored and excluded. This causes Blackness and Britishness to be viewed as separate entities lacking symbiosis. Whiteness and Britishness even went so far as to create a culture such that Blackness becomes a threat to the sanctity of these European and British cultures. To further an understanding of this, one can think of how race is a taboo subject in Germany, which allows Blackness to never be introduced as a dimension of what it means to be German, allowing Black people and their struggles with racism to be unnamed, unmarked, and ignored.

An example of how Gilroy and his concepts in the Black Atlantic directly affected a specific field of African-American studies is its role in defining and influencing the shift between the political black British movement of the 1960/70s to the 1980/90s.[20] Gilroy came to reject outright the working-class movements of the 1970s and '80s on the basis that the system and logic behind the movements were fundamentally flawed as a result of their roots in the way of thinking that not only ignored race but also the trans-Atlantic experience as an integral part of the black experience and history.[21] This argument is expanded upon in one of his previous co-authored books, The Empire Strikes Back (1983), which was supported by the (now closed) Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies of the University of Birmingham in the UK. The Black Atlantic received an American Book Award in 1994. The book has subsequently been translated into Italian, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. The influence of the study is generally accepted to be profound, though academics continue to debate in exactly what form its greatest significance may lie.[22]

The theoretical use of the ocean as a liminal space alternative to the authority of nation-states has been highly generative in diasporic studies, in spite of Gilroy's own desire to avoid such conflations.[23] The image of water and migration has been taken up as well by later scholars of the Black diaspora, including Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Isabel Hofmeyr, and Stephanie E. Smallwood, who expand Gilroy's theorizations by engaging questions of queerness, transnationality, and the middle passage.[24]

Among the academic responses to Gilroy's Black Atlantic thesis are: Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato, and George Elliott Clarke's "Must All Blackness Be American? Locating Canada in Borden's 'Tightrope Time,' or Nationalizing Gilroy's The Black Atlantic" (1996, Canadian Ethnic Studies 28.3).[25]


  • (1982) (co-author) The Empire Strikes Back - Race and Racism in '70s Britain, London: Hutchinson/Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
  • (1987) There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, London: Hutchinson
  • (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London: Verso Books
  • (1993) Small Acts: thoughts on the politics of black cultures, London: Serpent's Tail
  • (1995) "Hendrix, hip-hop e l’interruzione del pensiero" with Iain Chambers, Costa & Nolan.
  • (2000) Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  • (2000) Between Camps: Nations, Culture and the Allure of Race, London: Allen Lane
  • (2000) Without Guarantees: Essays In Honour of Stuart Hall (co-edited with Angela McRobbie and Lawrence Grossberg), London: Verso
  • (2004) After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture, London: Routledge
  • (2007) Black Britain - A Photographic History (with an introduction by Stuart Hall), London: Saqi
  • (2009) (co-author) Kuroi Taiseiyo to Chishikijin no Genzai (The Black Atlantic and Intellectuals Today), Shoraisha
  • (2010) Darker Than Blue: On The Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (Harvard)


  1. ^ Williams, Paul, Paul Gilroy (Routledge Critical Thinkers), Routledge, 2013 ( ISBN 978-0415583978), p. 19.
  2. ^ Corr, John, "Paul Gilroy", in Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth and Imre Szeman (eds), Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory: The Johns Hopkins Guide, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012, pp. 240–44.
  3. ^ Lane, Richard J. Fifty Key Literary Theorists. London: Routledge, 2006, p. 138.
  4. ^ "Paul Gilroy is designated as the Charlotte Marion Saden Professor", Yale Bulletin & Calendar, Volume 32, Number 31, 4 June 2004.
  5. ^ "Academic Staff: Professor Paul Gilroy", King's College London.
  6. ^ a b Paul Gilroy Curriculum Vitae. Archived 12 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "JBHE's Annual Citation Rankings of Black Scholars in the Social Sciences and the Humanities", The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2009.
  8. ^ "Honorary degrees of the University of London, conferred at Goldsmiths' College", Goldsmiths University of London.
  9. ^ "Prof. Paul Gilroy first Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor", Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University, 27 August 2009.
  10. ^ "50th Fellowships", University of Sussex.
  11. ^ "British Academy announces 42 new fellows", The Times Higher Education, 18 July 2014. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  12. ^ "Paul Gilroy", Université de Liège.
  13. ^ "Paul Gilroy". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  14. ^ Tremlett, Rose, "University of Sussex graduation brings record numbers to Brighton", University of Sussex, 18 July 2017.
  15. ^ "British Academy President and Fellows elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences". British Academy. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  16. ^ a b Chivallon, Christine. "Beyond Gilroy's Black Atlantic: The Experience of the African Diaspora". Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (Winter 2002): pp. 359–382 (p. 359).
  17. ^ Barnes, Natasha. "Black Atlantic: Black America", Research in African Literatures, 27, n. 4 (Winter 1996): p. 106.
  18. ^ a b Braziel, Jana Evans, and Anita Mannur, Theorizing Diaspora. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 49.
  19. ^ a b Erickson, Peter. Reviews. African American Review, Vol. 31, Issue 3 (Fall 1997): p. 506.
  20. ^ Shukra, Kalbir. "The Death of a Black Political Movement", Community Development Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July 1997): p. 233.
  21. ^ Shukra (1997), p. 234.
  22. ^ Evans, Lucy, "The Black Atlantic: Exploring Gilroy's Legacy", in Dave Gunning and Abigail Ward (eds), Tracing Black America in Black British Culture, Special Issue of Atlantic Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2 (August 2009), pp. 255–68.
  23. ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes. "The Uses of Diaspora". Social Text 66(19): 2001, 45–73.
  24. ^ Tinsley, Omise’eke Natasha. "Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 14(2–3): 2008, 191–215.; Hofmeyr, Isabel. "The Black Atlantic Meets the Indian Ocean: Forging New Paradigms of Transnatinalism for the Global South – Literary and Cultural Perspectives", Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies, 33(2):2008, 37–41; Smallwood, Stephanie, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  25. ^ Clarke, George Elliott, "Must All Blackness Be American?: Locating Canada in Borden's 'Tightrope Time,' or Nationalizing Gilroy's The Black Atlantic", Athabasca University, 11 October 2012.

Further reading

  • McNeil, Daniel. Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic: Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messiahs. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Nishikawa, Kinohi. "Paul Gilroy", in Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey, Jr (eds), The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. 5 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 630-32.

External links

  • Paul Gilroy - Bibliography
  • Paul Gilroy on Twitter
  • Lecture on 2011 August Insurrection in the UK
  • Articles on openDemocracy
  • Interviewed by Prof. Tommie Shelby in Transition Magazine (2007)
  • Interview: Paul Gilroy in Conversation (2007); Video: "Contemporary Racisms: David Theo Goldberg and Paul Gilroy" (2007), darkmatter Journal
  • The Black Atlantic website
  • The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education citation rankings.
  • Gilroy discusses his photographic history of Black Britain on NPR.
  • Sam Coombes. "Insoluble Ambivalence(s): the Inside/Outside Position [sic] of Black Postcolonial communities as Articulated in the Work of Paul Gilroy and Edouard Glissant" (Podcast). The University of Edinburgh: Soundcloud. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  • Interview by Philip Dodd on the BBC Radio 3 program Free Thinking
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