Dr Stephen Forcer

Photograph of Dr Stephen Forcer

Department of Modern Languages
Professor of French Studies
Head of the Department of Modern Languages

Contact details

+44 (0)121 414 5985
+44 (0)121 414 3834
Ashley Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I completed my first degree and MA at the University of Warwick (1994-1999) before moving to Wadham College, Oxford to write my doctoral thesis (1999-2002) under the supervision of Professor Malcolm Bowie. I joined the University of Birmingham in September 2005, having previously held temporary posts at Keble College, Oxford and the Universities of Leeds and Exeter.

I am currently Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University, having been Deputy Head over 2014-2015.


  • DPhil, University of Oxford
  • MA Modern French Cultural Studies, University of Warwick
  • BA (Hons) French with Film Studies, University of Warwick


I completed my first degree and MA at the University of Warwick (1994-1999) before moving to Wadham College, Oxford to write my doctoral thesis (1999-2002) under the supervision of Professor Malcolm Bowie. I joined the University of Birmingham in September 2005, having previously held temporary posts at Keble College, Oxford and the Universities of Leeds and Exeter.

Since 2015 I have been Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University, having been Deputy Head over 2014-2015. The Department is home to some 75 staff and around 900 Undergraduate and Postgraduate students working across more than 10 different language areas, and incorporating translation and interpreting. As Head of Department I advocate for Modern Languages within the University, and at a national level I have represented the University and the subject area at events run by relevant subject associations, the UK Heads of Modern Languages network, the All-party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages, and the Chartered Institute of Linguists. My previous roles include School Head of Postgraduate Studies (Taught) and Welfare, Programme Lead for Modern Languages degrees, Elected Member of the University Senate, and Honorary Secretary of the Society for French Studies.

As a researcher, my essential aim has been to understand a range of French and European experimental culture by combining close textual analysis with an openness to whichever other fields seem productive, be they poetics and psychoanalysis, or Buddhism and historiography. This is reflected in my most recent monograph, Dada as Text, Thought and Theory (Oxford: Legenda Research Monographs in French Studies, 2015). The book was shortlisted for the 2016 Gapper Book Prize, run by the Society for French Studies. My monograph on Dada follows Modernist Song: The Poetry of Tristan Tzara (Oxford: Legenda, 2006) and a special issue of Nottingham French Studies co-edited with Emma Wagstaff on the French avant-garde (2011). In my own articles and book chapters I have pursued interests in the relationship between the European avant-garde and war, madness, sexuality, politics and history. I have taken up invitations to deliver keynotes and teaching at the Universities of Amsterdam, Bucharest, Oxford and Toronto, and at the Romanian Embassy in Paris.

I greatly enjoy teaching and I draw regularly on my research interests in lectures and seminars. Indeed, the avant-garde lends itself strongly to the sense of difficulty, analysis, debate, humour and risk that can be vital to learning.


I continue to teach a broad range of topics within 20th-century French film and literature. For final-year Undergraduates I run an option on Avant-Garde Currents in French Cinema: based partly on my own research, this module deals with Dada, Surrealism and other canonical aspects of the classical avant-garde, as well as alternative trends in post-WWII French cinema, from Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker through to Claire Denis. I also offer units on the European avant-garde as part of the MRes Modern Languages.

I contribute various individual lectures on French and European literature, film and cultural history to the Undergraduate programme in Years 1 and 2. At Birmingham I have retained an active commitment to language tuition through grammar lectures and class teaching, particularly Year 4 Prose. My previous teaching and lecturing includes BA and MA courses on 19th- and 20th-century French literature, French cinema, French Language, and Specialised Translation.

Postgraduate supervision

Past and current postgraduate projects include:

Lead Supervisor (with Emma Wagstaff) for Bethany Mason, ‘Francophone Caribbean Ecocriticism’ (PhD)

Co-supervisor (with Berny Sèbe as Lead): Sara Mechkrani, ‘Alienation in Francophone and Anglophone Postcolonial Literature’ (PhD); Sourour Salhi, ‘A Comparative Study of Discourse, Resistance and Evolution towards Independence in Anglophone Sub-Saharan and Franco-Algerian Postcolonial Literatures’ (PhD); Ann Kwiatkowski, ‘Louis XIV and Les Filles du roi’ (PhD).

External Examining:

  • Nefeli Zygopoulou (UCL), ‘Identity, Language, Militancy: The Question of Origins in the Poetry and Prose of Tristan Tzara and Mário de Andrade’ (PhD)
  • Rossella Bondi (Oxford Brookes), ‘A la Recherche de l’Homme Nouveau: Alberto Savinio et les Avant-gardes à Paris (1911-1937)’ (PhD).
  • Barnaby Dicker (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘Visibly Frame-based Cinematography: Practice, History, Theory’ (PhD).
  • Clarissa Hotchkis (Royal Holloway, University of London), 'To What Extent was the Rebellion Portrayed Within Avant-garde Women's Art a Rebellion Against Gender Norms?' (MPhil).
  • Katherine Brook (KCL), ‘Proust and the Avant-garde: Perception, Knowledge, Representation’ (PhD). Co-External Examiner with Thomas Baldwin (University of Kent)

I am currently External Examiner for the MSc by Research in French at the University of Edinburgh.

I am regularly involved in the internal marking of M-level and PhD work.

Find out more - our PhD French Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My general research areas are Dada and Surrealism in French literature and film.

My most recent book is Dada as Text, Thought and Theory (Oxford: Legenda Research Monographs in French Studies, 2015). Arguing for a significant reappraisal of one of the twentieth-century's most prominent cultural movements, the study combines close textual analysis and Dada history to approach topics either ignored or resisted by most traditional criticism, including women Dada poets, psychoanalysis and madness, and the history of ideas, including Buddhism and quantum physics.

Over 2014 I worked with Saskia Warren on a feasbility study into a heritage space related to the Birmingham Surrealist group led by Conroy Maddox. The project was funded by the Communities and Culture Network+ and involved workshops and a round table as part of a Birmingham Surrealist Laboratory.

I am also interested in Dada and Surrealism as part of a tradition of experimental or (would be) 'radical' French culture. With my colleague Emma Wagstaff I co-edited a special issue of Nottingham French Studies (2011) on the French avant-garde, in the aim of expanding the periodisation and scope of the avant-garde canon, as well as the methods used to understand individual authors and bodies of work. My other published research in this area considers French avant-garde work from the 1920s and 1930s within a variety of contexts, including European cultural and intellectual responses to armed conflict, combat testimony from soldiers, modern geo-politics and the (so-called) 'so-called 'war on terror'', and the politics and commodification of avant-garde art. I have also drawn on Dada and Surrealism in looking at collaborative experimental work produced on film and video by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville in the 1970s and 1980s.

My monograph on Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) - Modernist Song: The Poetry of Tristan Tzara (Oxford: Legenda, 2006) - represents the first book-length study of poetry written by the man remembered popularly as 'the Father of Dada', whose life in literature continued for nearly four decades after the totemic Sept manifestes Dada of 1924. I have continued to research various aspects of Tzara's life and writing, and am working on a long-term project to bring together Tzara's post-WII poetry - which was illustrated by Sonia Delaunay, Matisse, Miró and Picasso, among others - in a critical edition.

I have corresponded with galleries, cultural organisations and researchers about the various research topics described here, and it is always a pleasure to hear from colleagues or students working in related areas. I am very happy to discuss possible supervision or collaboration, or to respond to questions about any aspect of my work.

Other activities

Editorial Board Member of Dada/Surrealism.

Editorial Board Member of Studies in European Cinema.

Reviews and reader reports (selected): French Studies, The Irish Journal of French Studies, Modern and Contemporary France, The Modern Language Review, Nottingham French Studies, Intellect Books, Manchester University Press, Routledge.

Staff member of Réseau-F (an inter-institutional forum for Postgraduates in French Studies based at the Universities of Birmingham, Queen Mary University of London, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and Warwick).

Previous positions

Elected member of the University of Birmingham Senate (2010-2014)

Honorary Secretary of the UK Society for French Studies 2008-2011 (co-opted 2007).

Reviews Editor for Studies in European Cinema (2002-2010).


Self-authored books

Co-edited journal

Articles in refereed journalsFront cover of Nottingham French Studies

Chapters in books

  • Saskia Warren and Stephen Forcer, ‘The Birmingham Surrealist Laboratory: Unlocking Community and the Avant-Garde in a Super-Diverse City’, in Joni Palmer and Martin Zebracki (eds), Public Art Encounters: Art, Space and Identity (London: Routledge, 2017), pp.180-198.
  • 'Beyond Mental: Avant-garde Culture and War', in Nicholas Martin, Tim Haughton and Pierre Purseigle (eds), Legacies and Memories of War in Europe, 1918–1945–1989 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 85-107.
  • 'The Importance of Talking Nonsense: Tzara, Ideology, and Dada in the 21st century', in Elza Adamowicz and Eric Robertson (eds), Dada and Beyond, vol. 2: Dada and its Legacies (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2012), pp. 263-74.
  • 'On the Starfish Road: Surrealism and the Paris-Barcelona Connection', in Helena Buffery and Carlota Caulfield (eds), Barcelona: Visual Culture, Space and Power (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012), pp. 31-46.
  • 'Before They Were Famous: Tristan Tzara, Nationhood and Poetry', in Anne Quinney (ed.), Paris-Bucharest, Bucharest-Paris. Francophone Writers from Romania (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2012), pp. 71-94.
  • ''Neither parallel nor slippers': Dada, war, and the meaning(lessness) of meaning(lessness)' in Elisabetta Tarantino (ed.) with Carlo Caruso, Nonsense and other Senses: Regulated Absurdity in Literature (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), pp. 191-206.
  • ''Ceci n'est pas une transmission': Dada and Surrealism in work by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville', in Isabelle McNeill and Bradley Stephens (eds), Transmissions: Essays in French Literature, Thought, and Cinema, Modern French Identities: 51 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 179-97.

French-English translations

Six items (approx. 40,000 words) in Christina Howells (ed.), French Women Philosophers: A Contemporary Reader (London: Routledge, 2003):

  • Catherine Chalier, 'Peace as Gift and Obligation', pp. 56-68;
  • Françoise d'Eaubonne, 'The Feminine and Philosophy', pp. 274-82;
  • Anne Fagot-Largeault, 'Science and Ethics', pp. 323-36;
  • Dominique Schnapper, 'Racism and the Radical Condemnation of Modernity', pp. 369-84;
  • Mireille Delmas Marty, 'Democracy and Humanity', pp. 425-35;
  • Blandine Kriegel, 'The Eighteenth-Century Declarations of Rights and their Destinies', pp. 437-49.

Volume reviewed in French Studies, 60: 1 (January 2006), 158-59.

Encyclopedia entries

Review article

  • Chronicle d'un été (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, 1960) in Viewfinder (British Universities Film and Video Council), 4 October 2013.

Dissemination of research and participation in academic events

  • ‘The Artist’s Books of Tristan Tzara: A Study Day’, Edinburgh College of Art, organised by Peter Dayan (University of Edinburgh) in conjunction with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Modern. 23 February, 2018. With Kathryn Brown (Loughborough) and Eric Robertson (Royal Holloway).
  • MA teaching on the French avant-garde at the University of Amsterdam. December 2017.
  • ‘Round Table: Developing Co-ordinated Modern Languages Strategies in a post-Brexit Environment’ (8:30-10:00 Monday 3 July). Society for French Studies annual conference, 3-5 July 2017, University of Durham.
  • ‘The Secrets of Chaos, from Dada and Surrealism to Brexit and Terrorism’. Keynote paper at ‘Chaos // Order’, Modern Languages Graduate Conference, University of Oxford, 19 June 2017.
  • ‘DADAVISION! Re-visualising Dada.’ Plenary lecture at Visual Dada, international conference held at the University of Bucharest, 24-25 June 2016.
  • ‘L’Importance de l’imposture intellectuelle. Tzara, Film, Knowledge.’ Study day: ‘Tristan Tzara: un siècle de Dada’. Ambassade de Roumanie, Paris, 27 May 2016.
  • ‘Birmingham to Paris (Not) Via London: Surrealism and the Bohemian of Balsall Heath.’ ‘Surrealist Topographies: London, Paris and Brussels’, Maison Française d’Oxford, 15 April 2016.
  • ‘(Post-)Modernist Charlatans: Dada and Psychoanalysis.’ Modernism study day, University of Nottingham, 24 March 2016.
  • ‘Convulsive Beauty: Beauty and the Avant-garde.’ ‘A Thing of Beauty…’, University of Birmingham interdisciplinary workshop, 4-5 June 2015.
  • ‘The Madman Next Door: Tristan Tzara, Jacques Lacan, and Literature as (Anti-)Knowledge.’ International Colloquium of 20th- and 21st-Century French and Francophone Studies. Louisiana State University, 26 February-1 March 2015.
  • ‘“I’m Just Bored to Tears by Books about the History of Dada”: New Approaches to the Dada Movement’. Art History Department, University of Toronto, 28 October 2014.
  • ‘"The Surreal Seemingness of War": the French Avant-garde and Military Testimony’. University of Sheffield French Research Seminars. 5-6pm 13 May 2014.
  • ‘Decoding Dada: Women Dada Poets, Buddhist Dada, and Other Apparent Anomalies’. University of Nottingham French and Francophone Research Seminars. 18 October 2013.
  • Surrealist House and Garden Competition, 2013 Balsall Heath Biennale. August-September.
  • 'Surrealism, Conroy Maddox, and Balsall Heath'. Public lecture at the 2013 Balsall Heath Biennale (Chris Poolman and Elizabeth Rowe). Tuesday 20 August.
  • Contribution on Conroy Maddox (42:30-44:50) for More Canals Than Venice (Rainbow Films, 2013).
  • Staff Organiser: Réseau-F Conference for Postgraduates in French Studies, University of Birmingham, 10 May 2013.
  • With Roger Shannon: screening of Surreal Enigmas (Silvano Levy, 1995), Birmingham Flatpack Festival. 2-3pm Saturday 23 March 2013, School of Art, Margaret Street, B3 3BX.
  • With Barnaby Dicker and Chris Townsend: panel on 'Adaptation and Authorship in Avant-garde Film' at the 2012 European Cinema Research Forum, 16-18 July, Edge Hill University. Paper: 'Not Intended for Production: Surrealism, Film, and Philippe Soupault's poèmes cinématographiques'.
  • 'Modern Life is Rubbish: An Introduction to Dada Art, Film and Literature'. Language Conference Workshop at Camp Hill School for Girls, 29 June 2012.
  • 'The Odd, The Experimental and The Unfilmable: Current and Future Projects in Film'. Paper at a Symposium organised in advance of the launch of the Birmingham University Centre for International Film Studies. 15 May 2012.
  • Session chair at 'Politics and the Aesthetic', Réseau-F PhD colloquium, Queen Mary University of London, 14 May 2012.
  • ‘Dada.’ Talk given 5 October 2011 at the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham, as part of a series of events run in conjunction with a production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.
  • Postgraduate Symposium (Organiser and Chair): ‘Postgraduate Research on the European Avant-Garde’, held at the University of Birmingham 21 June 2011.
  • ‘Sexuality, Race, Religion and Ideology: Encouraging Students to Speak Openly and Usefully About Sensitive Topics.’ Presentation given at ‘Sharing Best Practice in Teaching and Learning’ (symposium) held 17 May 2011 at the University of Birmingham.
  • 'Beyond Mental: Avant-garde Culture and War'. Invited paper at 'Legacies and Memories of War in Europe, 1918-1945-1989', European Research Institute, University of Birmingham, 23-24 September 2010.
  • 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da: Dada, Music, Fetish'. Paper at bi-annual conference organised by the European Network for Avant-garde and Modernism Studies, Poznan, Poland, 9-11 September 2010.
  • With Jennifer Birkett: In Your Dreams: Science and the Creative Imagination in France (1880-1930)', presentation at British Festival of Science, University of Birmingham, 17 September 2010.
  • 'Le Surréalisme au cinéma', invited lecture at 'Le Paris des Avant-gardes', University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education, 24 April 2010.
  • Introduction to Trois couleurs: blue (1993) at Cineworld, Birmingham, as part of National Schools Film Week, 22 October 2009.
  • 'Littérature et cinéma Dada', invited lecture at 'Paris 1900-1925: littérature et arts visuels', University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education, 25 April 2009.
  • ''De beaux noms vagues': Science, Knowledge, Dada'. Invited paper at the University of Warwick Research Seminars in French Studies, 7 May 2008.
  • 'Poetry for Life'. Paper at the Queen Mary Malcolm Bowie Conference: 'Across the Arts'. 1 December 2007.
  • University of Birmingham Research Seminars in French Studies, Autumn 2007: 'The Avant-garde.' Co-organiser with Emma Wagstaff. Speakers: Ruth Hemus (Royal Holloway), Eric Robertson (Royal Hollway), Michael Sheringham (All Souls College, Oxford), Natalie Wourm (Birkbeck).
  • 'Mental Cases: Dada.' Paper at the Annual Conference of the Society for French Studies, University of Birmingham, 2-4 July 2007.
  • Speaker at 'Delayed Encounters: Filmic Legacies of Dada and Surrealism. Symposium at the University of Manchester, Friday 25 May 2007.
  • 'Machine tournez vite: bodies, technology and time in Dada film.' Paper at 'Sensing Film: Body, Genre, Audience', the Annual Conference of the Association for Studies in French Cinema. Institut Français, London. Wednesday 18 April 2007.
  • 'The importance of talking nonsense: Tzara, ideology, and Dada in the 21st century'. Paper at ''Eggs laid by tigers': dada and beyond': international conference at the University of Wales Swansea, 5-8 July 2006.
  • ''Neither parallel nor slippers': Dada, war, and the meaning(lessness) of meaning(lessness)'. Paper at ''Between Peterborough and Pentecost': Nonsense Literature across Space and Time': international conference organised by the HRC at the University of Warwick, 12-13 May 2006.
  • 'An Unholy Trinity: Dada, surrealism and the Bible'. Research paper given 22 March 2006, Department of French Studies, University of Birmingham.


Papers at the Universities of Bath, Cambridge (x3), Exeter, Florida State, Leeds (x2) and Oxford (x2). Co-organised (with Oliver Davis) international conference for graduates in French Studies (Oxford).


Avant-garde and modernist French film and literature, especially Dada and Surrealism in France; French cinema

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