John Jervis

Research Fellow in Cultural Studies


John Jervis is a cultural theorist. He taught extensively in Cultural Studies, Anthropology and Sociology and is now concentrating on research and writing, as a research fellow. His work has sought to contribute to the tradition of ‘cultural aesthetics’ as a way of thinking about the relation between embodiment, feeling and imagination in western cultures since the eighteenth century. This tradition runs through the late work of Kant, early German Romanticism, and on through Nietzsche and, particularly, Benjamin, and also through French theories of culture from Baudelaire up to Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, and can be situated in opposition to reductionist theories of psychological motivation and socio-economic determinism. His own work within this framework tries to incorporate a greater emphasis on the significance of gender difference and popular culture. 

Research interests

We can say that the cultural imaginary shapes and responds to the embodied world of everyday experience, including ‘mediated’ experience, the world of seeing, hearing, feeling, and acting: and just as the challenge of representing this world, while inevitably remaining part of it, has been central to modernism, so the challenge of reflecting on it, while embedded in the same paradox, constitutes the field of a cultural aesthetics of the modern, and it is within this field, contributing to the theoretical elaboration of cultural studies, that John’s work is situated. In a sense, this revisits ‘aesthetics’ as a relation between feeling and the imagination in the encounter with the difference of the other, a sense significant to eighteenth century discussions before aesthetics became a specialized discipline tied to the rationalization of ‘high’ art, purportedly abstracted from any cultural context. 

To further this, a book is underway suggesting that apparently distant ‘origins’ of the modern may be recurrent in the present, whatever challenges this may pose to conventional models of linear history. Although modern culture has had a crucial engagement with the ideas of classical philosophy, of Plato and Aristotle, it is worth investigating the possibility that an earlier pairing – Homer (in the Odyssey), and Sappho – can provide insights into patterns of culture and feeling that have been sidelined by the more orthodox ‘rationalist’ accounts of modernity, patterns that can be seen coming into focus in some strands of modernism and in modern popular culture. Here, among the ‘archaic’ Greeks and ourselves, we find that the world presents itself to experience as having something of artifice and paradox, unpredictability, even wilfulness, about it, a world of ambiguity, puzzlement and risk, endlessly marked by human endeavors that return inscrutably, whether in daily life or in the variously obscure, threatening or adventurous figurations, whether actual or virtual, of popular culture; and this in turn requires a combination of receptiveness and artfulness, harnessed to imagination as much as to reason, in coping with it. Hence the archaic world of doxa (opinion) and mimos (mimesis) gives a sense of the world as semblance, where reality and truth inhabit appearances, and this is what we have to deal with in the contours of everyday life. At the same time, interlinked with this, the archaic is a fundamentally gendered world, but one in which the paradoxical straddling of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ that has been central to the modern construction of gender is latent or emergent, rather than present, and this opens up other gender-related possibilities that may cast light on our contemporary controversies around ‘transgender’ and the underlying dilemmas of identity in relation to the whole field of sex and gender. The book is provisionally entitled Gender and the Ruse of Culture: Ancient Greeks and Other Moderns.  


John's teaching has always tried to encourage students to think for themselves, beyond the dogmatic certainties of orthodox disciplinary boundaries.  

Prior to taking up his research post, John taught the modules 'Modernity and Modernism' and 'The Imagination: Studies in Culture and Creativity', primarily to students from Cultural Studies, but also from Sociology and a range of Humanities disciplines.

Previously, John taught modules in Social Anthropology (Systems of Ritual and Belief; Structural Anthropology), Sociology and Social Anthropology (Health, Illness and Medicine), and Sociology (Concepts and Theories in Sociology; Sex, Gender and the Family).

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