Nadine Attewell, PhD

attewell Professor of English
Location: Chester New Hall, Room
Phone: 905 525 9140 ext. 24492


  • Research
  • Profile
  • Publications

Twentieth- and twenty-first-century British literature; colonial, postcolonial, and Indigenous literature and theory; anglophone Asian and Asian diasporic literary and cultural production; gender and sexuality studies; citizenship and nation-building; mixed and multiracial identities; intimacy; the politics of memory; capitalism, labour, and empire.

Nadine Attewell (PhD Cornell 2006; MA Cornell 2003; BA Honours U of Toronto 2000) joined the Department of English and Cultural Studies in 2009. A scholar of empire, identity, and intimate life, she works in and across a diverse set of fields that includes modernist studies; postcolonial, Indigenous, and settler colonial studies; Asian and Asian diasporic studies; and gender and sexuality studies.

Dr. Attewell’s first book, Better Britons: Reproduction, National Identity, and the Afterlife of Empire (forthcoming, University of Toronto Press, 2013), reflects on the centrality of reproduction to postimperial projects of governance and nation-building through readings of twentieth-century literature and policy from Australia, Britain, and New Zealand. The book’s five chapters show how different reproductive genres, from the large-scale experiments in controlled breeding depicted in novels like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and attempted by state governments in interwar Australia to the abortion that concludes Jean Rhys’ 1934 novel Voyage in the Dark, tell time, organize space, and define the gender, sexual, class, racial, and cognitive competencies needed for citizenship, all in pursuit of a more perfect nation. In addition, however, Better Britons investigates what is at issue in efforts to bind national futures to reproductive acts in the first place, a turn the book argues is animated by ambivalence about the end of empire. Drawing on feminist, queer, and Indigenous theoretical approaches to the politics of reproduction, Dr. Attewell asks, what do we learn about the postimperial forms of Australianness, Britishness, and New Zealandness when their embodied reproducibility is understood to be defining? And if, as she argues throughout Better Britons, the reproductive turn has tended to produce configurations of British and settler identity anchored in amnesia about the nation’s colonial past, what does this tell us about what might be required for their decolonization?

Entitled Archives of Intimacy: Racial Mixing and Asian Lives in the Colonial Port City,Dr. Attewell’s current book project builds on Better Britons’ account of the ways in which projects of sexual discipline are articulated with technologies of racialization, imperial governance, and nation-building, enquiring into the early-twentieth-century history of racial mixing in British-controlled sites of Chinese settlement, including Hong Kong, London, and Liverpool. Through readings of fiction, non-fiction prose, life-writing, photography and state and other institutional records, she seeks to understand how multiraciality is experienced and represented in the volatile spaces of the colonial port city: where, how, and with whom do mixed heritage subjects seek community in contexts where power, space, jobs, and other goods are distributed along differentiated (and differentiating) lines? Ultimately, Dr. Attewell argues, exploring interracial and mixed-race practices of intimacy – what Mimi Sheller calls “history from the bottom(s) up” – can tell us something about not just mixed race lives, but the embodied competencies, emplaced knowledges, and intimate transactions that condition entrance into, and are needed to reproduce, networks of capital accumulation. In this way, Archives of Intimacy will contribute substantively to ongoing conversations about the fate of intimacy, embodiment, and community in places transformed by empire and incorporation into capitalist economies of exchange, fleshing out the histories of port cities like Hong Kong, Liverpool, and London as “spaces-of-flows” integral to the development of modernity.                                       

At McMaster, Dr. Attewell has taught the undergraduate courses in Longer Genres; Modern British Literature; Postcolonial Cultures; and Theories of Gender and Sexuality. She offers graduate seminars on modernism; labour, race, and migration in the early-twentieth-century transatlantic imaginary; and the politics of reproduction. She welcomes graduate students working in the areas of modernism(s); twentieth-century British literary and cultural production; anglophone Asian (diasporic) literary and cultural studies; settler studies; postcolonial and Indigenous literary and cultural studies; and feminist and queer studies.


Better Britons: Reproduction, National Identity, and the Afterlife of Empire. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2014.

Refereed articles and chapters:

“‘Moments that clip together like magnets’: War, Space, and the Politics of Juxtaposition.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Forthcoming.

“Reading Closely: Writing (and) Family History in Kim Scott’s Benang.” Postcolonial Text 7.3 (Fall 2012).

“No Alternative? Robin Hyde and the Politics of Loss.” Lighted Windows: Critical Essays on Robin Hyde. Ed. Mary Edmond-Paul. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2008. 53 – 66.

“‘Bouncy little tunes’: Nostalgia, Sentimentality, and Narrative in Gravity’s Rainbow.” Contemporary Literature 45: 1 (2004): 22 – 48.

“A Risky Business: Going Out in the Fiction of Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson.” The Swarming Streets: Twentieth Century Literary Representations of London. Ed. Lawrence Phillips. Rodopi, 2004. 7 – 18.

Journal Issues:
The Work of Return. Special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies. Eds. Nadine Attewell and S. Trimble. Forthcoming, 2016.

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