Portrait of Dr Joanne Pettitt

Dr Joanne Pettitt

Lecturer in Comparative Literature


Dr Joanne Pettitt holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Warwick (MA) and the University of Kent (PhD, PGCHE). Before taking up a lectureship in Comparative Literature in 2018, she held a Fulbright scholarship at Elon University in North Carolina, USA, a postdoctoral assistantship at the University of Bern, and teaching positions at the University of Kent and the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) in London.

Joanne is the secretary of the British Association for Holocaust Studies (BAHS), a member of the executive board of the European Association for Holocaust Studies (EAHS) and co-editor-in-chief of Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History.

Research interests

Joanne’s primary research interests lie at the intersection of Holocaust studies, memory studies and perpetrator studies. Her first monograph, Perpetrators in Narratives of the Holocaust: Encountering the Nazi Beast, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2017.

Her current research examines representations of neo-Nazism and the rise of the far-right in various national and political contexts.

She is broadly interested in the conventions that underpin different kinds of perpetrator writing and is involved in a number of projects in this area. She has published on representations of the Holocaust in graphic novels and comics, the intergenerational transmission of Holocaust guilt, and the importance of belonging in perpetrator narratives. 


Joanne teaches a range of topics within Comparative Literature.



  • Pettitt, J. (2019). Introduction: new perspectives on Auschwitz. Holocaust Studies [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/17504902.2019.1625110.
    The word Auschwitz is multifaceted. Indeed, Auschwitz is a site of mass atrocity, a museum, a cemetery, a focal point of Holocaust memory, a place of education, a town in south west Poland, a tourist “must-see,” and a place where complex negotiations of identity and morality take place. Overshadowing all of these nuances, the word itself has entered common vernacular as shorthand for the Holocaust or, even more generally, as an example of an uncomplicated ethical binary. In this way, the word masks a complex and difficult history, often functioning as a linguistic and historical reduction that relies on its symbolic currency over and above historical accuracy. These complexities were the focus of the second conference of the European Association for Holocaust Studies, held in Kraków in November 2017. The present volume aims to continue the fruitful discussions that began at that conference, and to spark further discussion on the question(s) of Auschwitz. Since the contributions all revolve around the same theme, some overlap and repetition is inevitable. However, as will become clear, each of the articles in the volume offers something new to the extensive criticism that already exists on the topic of Auschwitz.
  • Pettitt, J. (2018). Holocaust Narratives: Second-Generation “Perpetrators” and the Problem of Liminality. The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms [Online] 23:286-300. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/10848770.2017.1419668.
    Taking “second-generation perpetrators” to refer to the tension between the guilt of the parents who were actively involved in carrying out Nazi atrocities, and the innocence of their offspring, I posit the oscillation between these positions as a form of liminality. Underpinned by the work of Jacques Derrida and Marianne Hirsch, I discuss this form of liminality in relation to concepts of the ghostly, examining the ways in which Holocaust narratives, literary and cinematic, are haunted by the past. I argue that the family conflicts such second-generation narratives present run the risk of displacing the real victims of the Holocaust.
  • Pettitt, J. (2016). Popular Psychopaths and Holocaust Perpetrators: Fiction, Family, and Murder. The Journal of Popular Culture [Online] 49:1301-1319. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/jpcu.12490.
  • Pettitt, J. (2016). Jewish “culpability”: redefining heroism in the context of the Holocaust. Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History [Online] 22:357-371. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/17504902.2016.1191166.
    This article considers representations of Jewish “culpability” during the Holocaust. Despite the undoubtedly contentious nature of the topic, I take as my starting point that the actions of the victims of the genocide were not all beyond moral reproach. This is not to confuse cause and effect but, rather, to acknowledge the nuances of the atrocity. Analyzing the representation of these ambiguities in a wide range of literature and film, I argue that conceptions of heroism are insufficient in this context because, in their insistence on action over complicity, they inadvertently condemn millions of victims who were violently coerced into submission. Instead, I suggest that the focus of fictional accounts should be on complexity, not heroism.
  • Pettitt, J. (2016). Some Thoughts on Perpetrator Metafiction: David Albahari’s Götz and Meyer and Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction [Online] 57:477-485. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00111619.2015.1121859.
    This article aims to explore the significance of metafiction as an appropriate mode for representation in Holocaust perpetrator fiction. Looking at two pertinent examples—David Albahari’s Götz and Meyer (1998) and Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972)—it argues that the movement between the diegetic and extradiegetic narrative spaces allows for an encoding of imaginative processes that promote postmemorial discourses. This process is important at this juncture, when the Holocaust is sliding out of living memory, because it emphasizes the need to continually re-engage with the past, thereby retaining its significance in the present.
  • Pettitt, J. (2016). Sartre, Goffman, and Fictional Nazis: Homogeneity as Identity in Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow (1991) and Edgar Hilsenrath’s The Nazi and the Barber (1971). Interdisciplinary Literary Studies [Online] 18:441-460. Available at: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/639131.
    This article seeks to consider the role of homogeneity as a character trait in literary representations of Holocaust perpetrators. It will engage with Erving Goffman’s “on face-work” and Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy. The drawing together of these two distinct theoretical approaches, while not new, is based on the conceptions of “social performativity” and “nothingness” that inform both methodologies. Thus, this article is concerned with the depiction of Nazi protagonists whose identity is enmeshed with that of the wider social discourse but who, at the same time, display the potential for other versions of selfhood (what I call self-potentiality). The analysis concludes by examining the possible ethical implications of this kind of characterization.
  • Pettitt, J. (2014). On Blends and Abstractions: Children’s Literature and the Mechanisms of Holocaust Representation. International Research in Children’s Literature [Online] 7:152-164. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3366/ircl.2014.0129.
    Critics have long since noted that children's literature of the Holocaust is caught between two binary oppositions: it must offer an emphatic didactic message whilst simultaneously providing an appropriate ‘safe’ distance between the implied reader and the atrocities committed. The result is that texts of this kind frequently consign the most brutal aspects of the story to the periphery of the narrative as a lack and the true horror of the Holocaust is reified in more conceptual forms. In other words, that which is said may be explained by that which is not said. Taking cognitive poetics as my methodological approach, I attempt to illustrate the ways in which the said/not-said binary can be usefully manipulated as a means of facilitating the requirements for both didacticism and appropriate suitability simultaneously. Through an examination of the uses of conceptual integration and metonymy, I demonstrate the power of?–?and issues surrounding?–?silence as a means of representation in itself.


  • Pettitt, J. (2017). Perpetrators in Holocaust Narratives: Encountering the Nazi Beast. [Online]. Palgrave Macmillan. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-52575-4.
    This study provides a comprehensive analysis of representations of Holocaust perpetrators in literature. Such texts, often rather controversially, seek to undo the myth of pure evil that surrounds the Holocaust and to reconstruct the perpetrator in more human (“banal”) terms. Following this line of thought, protagonists frequently place emphasis on the contextual or situational factors that led up to the genocide. A significant consequence of this is the impact that it has on the reader, who is thereby drawn into the narrative as a potential perpetrator who could, in similar circumstances, have acted in similar ways. The tensions that this creates, especially in relation to the construction of empathy, constitutes a major focus of this work. Making use of in excess of sixty primary sources, this work explores fictional accounts of Holocaust perpetration as well as Nazi memoirs. It will be of interest to anyone working in the broad areas of Holocaust literature and/or perpetrator studies.

Edited book

  • Pettitt, J. and Weiss, V. eds. (2017). Tracing Topographies: Revisiting the Concentration Camps Seventy Years After the Liberation of Auschwitz. [Online]. Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Tracing-Topographies-Revisiting-the-Concentration-Camps-Seventy-Years/Pettitt-Weiss/p/book/9781138701564.
    Seventy years on from the liberation of Auschwitz, the contributions collected in this volume each attempt, in various ways and from various perspectives, to trace the relationship between Nazi-occupied spaces and Holocaust memory, considering the multitude of ways in which the passing of time impacts upon, or shapes, cultural constructions of space.
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