Caroline Rooney was born in Zimbabwe. She studied as an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town before taking up a Beit Fellowship to undertake doctoral research at Oxford University. She works and publishes mainly in the areas of postcolonial studies and Arab cultural studies, focusing on the cultural expression of liberation struggles and their aftermaths in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East.
From 2009-12 she was an ESRC/AHRC Global Uncertainties Fellow with a Research Programme entitled ‘Radical Distrust: A Cultural Analysis of the Emotional, Psychological and Linguistic Formations of Political and Religious Extremism.’ This programme analyses the differences between the formations of radicalism and extremism, and it has been conducted through projects on Global Youth Cultures (2009-2010); Egyptian Literary Culture and Modernity (2009-2010); Popular Imagination and the Arab Spring (2011-12), amongst others.
From 2012-2015, she held a PaCCS Leadership Fellowship with a programme entitled ‘Imagining the Common Ground: Utopian Thinking and the Overcoming of Resentment and Distrust’. The activities and research of this leadership fellowship serve to explore both the pitfalls and possibilities of utopian thinking with reference to cultural notions of the common ground and civil society in contemporary African and Middle Eastern contexts.
Her research as practice explores and participates in arts activism, both critically and creatively. As part of the above programme, she co-produced and contributed to the script of The Keepers of Infinite Space, a play about Palestinian prisoners that was staged at the Park Theatre, London. With William Parry, she co-directed and co-produced the advocacy documentary Breaking the Generations (short-listed for the Best International Research Award, AHRC-Wellcome Health Humanities Medal). She has also directed two arts documentaries, White Flags (co-produced with Rita Sakr), on trust-building in Beirut, and England Times Palestine, on Palestinians living in England in the context of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Caroline Rooney’s poetry appears in anthologies, including In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights and Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge.
From 2016-17, she was the UK PI on a Newton-Mosharafa programme entitled ‘Egypt’s Living Heritage: Community Engagement in Re-creating the Past’, working with Fekri Hassan (French University of Egypt) and Mostafa Gad (High Institute of Folklore) on a new approaches to cultural heritage through engaging with contemporary artists and local communities. Projects included a Memorabilia exhibition, an art exhibition interpreting the programme’s ‘living heritage’ theme, a musical workshop and concert featuring popular traditions, the creation of a Mahfouz walking tour, and a workshop on dream interpretation.
Caroline Rooney’s research is interdisciplinary and combines specialist interests in contemporary postcolonial and Arab writing with cultural studies, liberation theory, the study of spiritual philosophies outside of the West, psychoanalysis, politics and international relations, cultural anthropology and cultural heritage.
Her first book African Literature, Animism and Politics (Routledge, 2000), contests the Euro-centrism of postcolonial theory through showing how the reception of postcolonial literature benefits from an understanding of animist philosophies and how the study of animism benefits from an aesthetic approach that differs from earlier anthropological frameworks. Her second book De-colonising Gender: Literature and a Poetics of the Real (Routledge, 2007) explores a feminine freedom of spirit that is not taken into account in theories of gender performativity, and the study shows how this consciousness of the feminine plays out in a postcolonial poetics of the real.
She has also co-edited a number of essay collections and special issues of journals, including: ‘Egyptian Literary Culture and Egyptian Modernity’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing 7:4 (2011); ‘Global Youth Cultures’, Wasafiri, 27:4 (2012); The Ethics of Representation in Literature, Art and Journalism: Transnational Responses to the 1982 Siege of Beirut (Routledge, 2013); Cosmopolitan Animals (Palgrave, 2015).
Her recent articles and book chapters address liberation movements and revolution in the Arab world and she is completing a book entitled Why the Egyptian Revolution was a Poem.
Caroline Rooney is the first supervisor of the following PhDs.