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Dr Alex Tickell

Profile summary

Professional biography


I am a literary historian and critic and my research explores colonial and postcolonial South Asian and Southeast Asian anglophone literary cultures, contemporary fiction and conjunctions of writing and politics. My area of expertise includes the work of the Indian author Arundhati Roy, and I am currently writing a monograph on urban fiction of the so-called ‘New India’.

Before joining the Open University in 2011, I taught at the University of York and University of Portsmouth. I studied for a British Academy funded PhD at the University of Leeds, where my thesis explored nationhood and concepts of home in South Asian fiction in English. (My interest in postcolonial and global fiction was sparked by experience working in Egypt and Southeast Asia, and my MA examined the writing of the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz.) I gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education in 2004. 

At the Open University I am the Research Lead for English & Creative Writing and Director of the OU’s Postcolonial and Global Literatures Research Group (PGLRG) and have worked on module teams across the English qualification pathway. I am currently chair of the new English MA (A893) in production and I have chaired The Arts Past and Present (AA100) in presentation as well as having written teaching material for OU modules at levels 2 and 3. More broadly, I have wide-ranging teaching experience in anglophone Postcolonial and World Literatures, American Literature, Popular Fiction and forms of critical theory. As the Director of the PGLRG I have organised numerous research events, seminars and workshops, including yearly postgraduate symposia.

I am a member of the South Asian Literature Association and have served on the editorial boards of scholarly journals in my field, including the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, the Southeast Asian Review of English and Wasafiri, and I have acted as region editor on The Year’s Work in English. I have been a judge on the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and on the Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies essay prize. In 2010 I held a visiting fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford.

Research interests

My research combines three different areas: 

  • the anglophone literary history of South Asia 
  • Chinese and Southeast Asian anglophone writing and South/east Asian diaspora writing in Britain
  • conjunctions of politics and literature in relation to urban space and infrastructure

A primary strand of my research work is the history of South Asian literature in English, especially early Indian fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My first published book was a critical edition of the earliest fictional writings by Indian authors in English: short fictions by Shoshee and Kylas Dutt published in the Calcutta Literary Gazette in the 1830s and 40s. I rediscovered these lost works in 2005 and they are now available as Selections from ‘Bengaliana’, which can be accessed here (This edition will soon be made available as a Kindle edition.) My subsequent AHRC-funded monograph project, Terrorism, Insurgency and Indian-English Literature 1830-1947 (Routledge, 2012), researched terror and anti-colonial violence in fictions by both colonial and Indian writers. It included analysis of writers of the 1857 Rebellion, the fiction of the forgotten Edwardian Indian novelist Sarath Kumar Gosh, and political novels by later writers such as Mulk Raj Anand. 

My work on South Asian literature also extends to histories of the present and contemporary writing, particularly the author and political campaigner Arundhati Roy. My 2003 JCL article on Roy has been influential in readings of her work, and my Reader’s Guide to Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Thing (Routledge 2007) is widely used by teachers, undergraduates and academics. In 2016, I edited a collection on recent writing, South Asian Fiction in English: Contemporary Transformations, which analyses key contemporary anglophone fictions from across the subcontinent, and my current work updates this focus in an original assessment of the infrastructural politics of city fictions of the ‘New India’. I am currently co-editing a special issue of Textus (Associazione Italiana di Anglistica) on ‘Millennium’s Children: New Trends in the Post-millennial Indian Novel’. 

My research interests also include Chinese and Southeast Asian anglophone writing and Southeast Asian diaspora writing in Britain. Between 2014 and 2019 I was sole editor and contributing author on volume 10 of the Oxford History of the Novel in English: The Novel in South and South East Asia since 1945 (Oxford University Press, 2019). This project involved over forty international contributors and included chapters on national traditions, key themes and major authors in Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. On this project I contributed research on memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and historical fiction from Malaysia and the Philippines. 

I am involved in researching Chinese and Southeast Asian migrant and diaspora communities in Britain, primarily through a collaborative research project with colleagues at the University of Liverpool, SOAS and Keele University to archive a narrative history of British Chinese writings in English. This project has already involved public impact workshops with members of the Liverpool Chinese British community, and scoping work on relevant authors. My focus in this research is the work of the Chinese Belgian author Han Suyin, a bestselling novelist and pro-Chinese commentator of the 1950s and 60s. 

Lastly, my work has consistently traced political aspects of postcolonial literature in relation to territory, space and infrastructure. My earliest published work dealt with travel writing and colonial mapping in India and more recently I have been involved in a Leverhulme-funded project with colleagues at Oxford, Warwick and King’s College London on ‘Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature’. This research led to a co-edited special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing on contemporary fictions of Delhi, which was published as a Routledge book, Delhi: New Literatures of the Megacity in 2020. My current research project develops these interests in a more far-reaching study of the civic politics of the contemporary Indian English novel, City Fictions of the New India: Literature, Infrastructure, Citizenship.


A full list of my publications can be found here

Teaching interests

I have taught extensively on OU modules and worked on The Arts Past and Present (AA100) as Module Team Chair and Deputy Chair from 2013 to 2019. I have also taught on Reading and Studying Literature (A230) and acted as Deputy Chair on The Nineteenth-Century Novel (AA316). My direct contribution to OU teaching materials includes units for Literature in Transition: From 1800 to the Present (A335) and Telling Stories: The Novel and Beyond (A233). On the former module I contributed units on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth and produced a location video on Thoreau, as well as acting as a block editor. On the latter module, I authored two chapter on Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things for Book 1: ‘Realisms’. 

I have developed strong international links with academics in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States, and have organised conferences at Jawaharlal Nehru University and collaborated on events in Southeast Asia, activities which were part of my editing work on The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Vol 10. I am currently collaborating with academics at Nanyang Technological University on new research on the author Han Suyin. Since joining the OU I have acted as external examiner for PhDs at Oxford, Sheffield and SOAS, University of London in the UK, and for universities in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Postcolonial Literatures Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts


Externally funded projects

The impact of participating in British counterinsurgency campaigns, 1945-1997, on British armed forces personnel
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201430 Sep 2019AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council

Research questions will revolve around the twin themes of perceptions of the enemy/populace, and experiences of violence: 1. What were attitudes towards combatants, general populace, ‘suspect’ populations and areas, and prisoners and detainees? How did these change during each campaign, and across campaigns? 2. What was the impact of: rules of engagement, past ‘repertoires of action’, and tendencies towards ‘rough justice’ and other tropes. 3. What policies, environments, attitudes and enemy approaches tended to fuel excessive violence, and which to limit violence in the first place, or to reverse the tide of excessive violence? 4. How did British troops perceive ‘race’ and culture, and how did this change across 1945-97, given changes in attitudes to race and multiculturalism in the UK? 5. How did troops experience and deal with violence and trauma, both as its authors and its victims? Applying these questions across 3-5 of the campaigns listed below will provide an overarching picture of troop mentality or ‘pysche’ and its changes. 1. Malayan Emergency: a rural Cold War campaign against an enemy perceived as ideological, with strong elements both of ‘counter-terror’ and of soft power and ‘winning hearts and minds’. 2. Mau Mau: a rural campaign with the enemy perceived as ‘non-rational’/primitive/tribal. 3. Cyprus: a predominantly urban campaign against an ethnic nationalist enemy. 4. Northern Ireland: a largely urban campaign when human rights and civil rights expectations were increasing. 5. Afghanistan: at an epilogue level, for how this echoes earlier trends or not, raising the question of continuities/discontinuities into the future. Most of the above campaigns have been the cause of major court cases raising the possibility of in-depth study and comparison of particular incidents. All can be studied using a blend of soldiers’ diaries (IWM, Army Museum, select regimental museums), oral history records, and the National Archives. Outputs: 1. A thesis of up to 100,000 words, with publication potential in entirety or parts. 2. Web output. The student should develop skills in bridging the archive/museum, academic world, and the public, by providing working papers, documents and commentary on topical parts of their work online, including through The OU’s unique OpenLearn platform, and its Research Centres.