Professor Stephen Forcer

Photograph of Dr Stephen Forcer

Department of Modern Languages
Professor of French

Contact details

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. In 2005 I joined the University of Birmingham as a Lecturer in French, having previously held temporary posts at Keble College, Oxford and the Universities of Leeds and Exeter.

Over 2015-2018 I was Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University, having been Deputy Head over 2014-2015.

In January 2019 I began a period of study leave. With colleagues from Anthropology, Nursing and Law, I am currently developing projects on the relationship between humour, resilience, and trauma. I am also investigating comparative readings of Surrealism and extremism.


  • 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. In 2005 I joined the University of Birmingham as a Lecturer in French, having previously held temporary posts at Keble College, Oxford and the Universities of Leeds and Exeter.

I was Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University from July 2015-December 2018, 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). During that time the Department responded to a major University restructuring of Modern Languages, embarked upon a complete overhaul of the Undergraduate curriculum, and rewrote strategies for research, academic administration, and PGT. As Head of Department I advocated for Modern Languages within the University, while at a national level I represented the University and the subject area at events run by 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 Elected Member of the University Senate, School Head of Postgraduate Studies (Taught) and Welfare, Admissions Officer and Programme Lead for Modern Languages degrees, and Honorary Secretary of the UK 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.


As a temporary Lecturer at another institution, the first seminars I was asked to give were on medieval French architecture. While this is somewhat outside my normal area of study, it taught me the importance of preparation and adaptability, and at Birmingham I have continued to teach a broad range of topics within French and European cultural history as part of the Undergraduate programme. Over 2006-2018 I ran a final-year module, Avant-Garde Currents in French Cinema, which was taken by a total of 200+ students. Based partly on my own research, the course dealt 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 Devers and Claire Denis. A new module on the international avant-garde may be proposed to Birmingham students in due course, as part of the new curriculum. At Masters level I have delivered classes on the European avant-garde, film, and translation theory. In 2017 and 2018 I was privileged to deliver guest classes to MA students at the University of Amsterdam, supported on the second occasion by an award from Erasmus+.

At Birmingham I have retained an active commitment to language tuition through grammar lectures and class teaching, particularly Year 4 Prose and Translation. My previous teaching at Exeter, Leeds and Oxford includes BA and MA courses on 19th- and 20th-century French literature, French cinema, French Language, and Specialised Translation.

Postgraduate supervision

I am always happy to hear from potential Postgraduates looking to develop a project.

My areas of supervision are:

  • Avant-garde
  • Dada
  • Surrealism
  • 20th-century French poetry

Current supervision

  • Lead Supervisor (with Emma Wagstaff) for Bethany Mason, ‘Francophone Caribbean Ecocriticism’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Berny Sèbe) for Sara Mechkarini, ‘Alienation in Francophone and Anglophone Postcolonial Literature’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Berny Sèbe) for Sourour Salhi, ‘A Comparative Study of Discourse, Resistance and Evolution towards Independence in Anglophone Sub-Saharan and Franco-Algerian Postcolonial Literatures’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Berny Sèbe) for Ann Kwiatkowski, ‘Louis XIV and Les Filles du roi’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Berny Sèbe) for Dooshima Dugguh, ‘Disillusionment with African Politics in the Post-Independence Era: Post-colonial Francophone Literary Voices’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Lyndsey Stonebridge as Lead) for Marie Allègre, ‘Virginia Woolf and Psychoanalysis, a Dialogue: English and French Receptions’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Richard Langley as Lead) for Ren Warom, ‘Re-programming the Signifiers: Post-truth Spectacle, Hyper-reality, and Restoring Meaning in a Meaningless World’ (PhD)
  • Co-supervisor (with Martyn Cornick) for Verity Smette, ‘French Children’s Historical Fiction and the Memory of the German Occupation’ (MA by Research)

Previous supervision

External examining

  • 2018. Katherine Brook (KCL), ‘Proust and the Avant-garde: Perception, Knowledge, Representation’ (PhD). Co-External Examiner with Thomas Baldwin (University of Kent)
  • 2017. Nefeli Zygopoulou (UCL), ‘Identity, Language, Militancy: The Question of Origins in the Poetry and Prose of Tristan Tzara and Mário de Andrade’ (PhD)
  • 2014. Rossella Bondi (Oxford Brookes), ‘A la Recherche de l’Homme Nouveau: Alberto Savinio et les Avant-gardes à Paris (1911-1937)’ (PhD).
  • 2013. 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).
  • 2010. Barnaby Dicker (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘Visibly Frame-based Cinematography: Practice, History, Theory’ (PhD).

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.


My research began in the area of the French avant-garde, specifically Dada and Surrealism in French literature and film. I am more recently interested in how the study of experimental culture might be combined with areas outside of languages or indeed outside of the Arts and Humanities altogether.

With colleagues from Anthropology, Nursing and Law, I am part of a team to have been awarded around £7K by the University’s Institute of Global Innovation for a pilot project on the relationship between humour and trauma (developing out of work on the avant-garde, my angle is the use of dark and absurd humour as a response to traumatic experience, as well as the more general role played by language and culture in facilitating policy, meaning and progress in responding to major problems). Supported by the IGI strand for gender and the global south, the project will take place in Sierra Leone in 2019, looking at the use of comedy and humour in working with survivors of gender-based violence. Through connections to NGOs (local, national and international) and the NHS, there is the potential to extend the results of the project in comparative contexts. The project will be prefaced by a workshop on humour and resilience at the University’s Institute for Advanced Studies, bringing together UoB researchers from 4 of the 5 different Colleges as well as important external contributions from researchers and NGOs.

These new projects build on a number of publications in the area of the ‘classical’ or ‘historical’ avant-garde.

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 feasibility 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 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, collaboration and external examining, or to respond to questions about any aspect of my work.

Other activities

Editorial Board Member of Dada/Surrealism.

Reviews and reader reports (selected): French StudiesThe Irish Journal of French Studies, Modern and Contemporary FranceThe Modern Language ReviewNottingham French Studies, Intellect Books, Manchester University Press, Routledge.

Previous positions


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

  •  ‘Modern Foreign Languages Graduates and Employability.’ ‘The Future of Modern Foreign Languages’, 1-day conference (Government Events), Hatton Conference Centre, London. 26 February 2019.
  • Co-organiser with Laura Martin: ‘Humour and Resilience in the Face of (Everyday) Global Challenges’, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Birmingham. 7 February 2019

  • Filmed Q&A on 'Female Human Animal' (Josh Appignanesi, 2018) with Lora Markova and Roger Shannon. Institute for Creative Enterprise, Edge hill University, 24 October 2018
  • ‘Dada, Surrealism and Primitivism’ at ‘Imagining Oceania: Contesting Histories, Creating Futures’ (Kathryn Brown). The Oceania exhibition celebrated 250 years of the RA. Royal Academy of Arts, London. 13 October 2018
  • ‘Trying (not) to Understand through Literature and Culture: The Avant-garde and Violence in the 20th and 21st Centuries.’ University of Amsterdam, 3 December 2018
  • ‘French Avant-garde Film.’ Guest MA classes at the University of Amsterdam, 3-6 December 2018. Supported by an Erasmus+ award for teaching mobility.
  • ‘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.
  • Invited speaker at a meeting of the All-party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages: ‘Modern Languages: Sink or Swim?’ Chair: Nia Griffith MP (Lab); Co-Chair: Baroness Coussins. House of Lords, London. 16 July 2016
  • ‘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).

View all publications in research portal


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

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