postcolonial critique, transnational feminist theories,  comparative literature, Italian colonial history, European migration studies, new media and digital diasporas, visual culture and postcolonial cinema.


Postcolonial Studies Initiative (PCI)

hosted by the Centre for the Humanities

Sandra Ponzanesi and Paulo de Medeiros coordinators

The Postcolonial Studies Initiative (PCI) at Utrecht University is intended as a platform for research into postcolonial issues, specifically focused on their application within Europe. The PCI organises activities such as lectures, film series, masterclasses and seminars, striving for greater interaction with society at large. As such it brings together a number of researchers from diverse areas and disciplines, both from Utrecht University and from other universities in the Netherlands as well as from other international partner universities.

The Postcolonial Studies Initiative seeks to engage with issues that concern the analysis of former colonial structure, which may have been abolished but whose at times haunting legacy still remains and informs not just formerly colonised areas but Europe as well. The PCI seeks to engage with such issues from a conviction of the need to articulate diverse theoretical approaches in the humanities and social sciences in reference to current social, political, and cultural phenomena. One area of special interest concerns the comparative study of colonial and postcolonial formations as well as the study of lesser understood, or lesser hegemonic, forms of colonial and postcolonial expression.

The PCI organises annual public lectures by internationally recognised scholars from different disciplines, a new Postcolonial Film Series, masterclasses and workshops by experts in the field, and it proposes a lecture series on New Directions in Literary Postcolonial Studies by international and national scholars working in the fields of literary studies. Furthermore, the PCI offers several teaching formats at undergraduate and postgraduate level and contributes to international research projects in order to give them greater visibility and coherence. 

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Current Project: 

High Potential Programme: International Research Project, Utrecht University.

  • Wired up. Digital media as innovative socialization practices for migrant youth.

In this project, carried out in collaboration with psychologist Mariëtte de Haan (Social Sciences, UU) and literary ethnographer Kevin Leander (Vanderbilt University, USA, Education and Human Development) we focus on how new digital media practices involving the Internet (e.g., information seeking, instant messaging, chat, web logs, the production and distribution of multi-media) impact on the lives, identities, learning and socialization of migrant youth. Migrancy, central to this program, embeds many of the local and global paradoxes that also pertain to digital media with their compression of space and time. However the link between the two fields is still under-theorised and is in need of more situated and comparative research. The project aims to monitor, evaluate and assess the socio-cultural specificities of the interaction between youth and digital media in a comparative perspective (migrants versus native Dutch, Moroccan migrants in the Netherlands versus Mexican migrants in the USA, female versus male). The comparative research focuses on a) identity construction and global representations, b) development of new learning strategies and socialization patterns, c) new forms of digital literacy and youth networks, and d) differences and similarities of these dynamics in a cross-national comparison. The project aims to locate the study of the effects of digital media in relation to socio-cultural configurations mediated by nationality, gender and ethnicity.

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7th European Framework Programme (2009-2013). 

MIG@NET explores how migrant individuals and communities participate in the production and transformation of transnational digital networks and the effect of transnational digital networks on migrant mobility and integration. Transnational digital networks are studied as instances of socio-economic, gender, racial, and class hierarchies, where the participation of migrant communities entails the possibility of challenging these hierarchies. The participation of migrant communities - at times inclusive, joining in larger transnational digital projects, at times exclusive, creating separate and relatively closed transnational spaces - is investigated in detail through particular case studies in seven thematic areas: Border Crossings, Communication and Information Flows, Education and Knowledge, Religious Practices, Sexualities, Social Movements, Intercultural Conflict and Dialogue. The project addresses these issues through a tripartite conceptual and methodological approach: a) a critical approach to the separation between the digital and the real; b) a transnational approach to migration and c) an intersectional approach to gender. Participants are: Panteion University, coordinator (Greece); Symfiliosi (Cyprus); Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (France); University of Hamburg (Germany); University of Bologna (Italy); Utrecht University (The Netherlands); The Peace Institute (Slovenia) and the University of Hull (UK).

Sandra Ponzanesi is Utrecht coordinator of the work package on ‘Religious Practices’ (with Eva Midden) in collaboration with the University of Hull (UK) and Panteion University (Greece) and participant in the work Package on ‘Education and Knowledge’ (with Koen Leurs) in collaboration with Bologna University, work package coordinator (Italy) and Panteion University (Greece).

 For further information see:



NWO grant for Internationalisation in the Humanities

  • PEN (Postcolonial Europe Network) 2011-2014


The project analyses concrete historical events such as the adoption of treaties by the

various European states and their consequences, issues in political theory and political philosophy such as the notions of sovereignty, borders, and law, as well as their representations in a variety of media from literature to film and popular culture. The main aim is to develop theoretical and methodological tools, based on particular case studies, to discuss future ideas of Europe in a postcolonial and postimperial perspective. The project aims to significantly contribute to existing knowledge, and prepare the ground for future multi-disciplinary research, bridging some gaps in current discipline-bound scholarship, and asserting the importance of culture in general, and Humanities-based research in particular, for imagining models for a European polity.

Postcolonial Europe and its legacies

The project will focus on the organisation of international conferences on the issues of Europe and its Fluid Borders, Cultural Memory and the Postcolonial and on the New European Polity, publications in international journals and the creation of a digital platform on postcolonial Europe.

International partners

Sandra Ponzanesi (MCW) and Paulo de Medeiros (DMT) work together in this project with colleagues from Utrecht University and with partners from the University of Leeds (Graham Huggan, John McLeod, Max Silverman), University of Munich (Tobias Doering, Christopher Balme, Robert Stockhammer), London School of Economics (Paul Gilroy and Marsha Henry), University of Roskilde and Iceland (Lars Jensen and Kristín Loftsdóttir) and University of Naples (Iain Chambers). The project starts from 1 September 2011 and last for 3 year.



Past Projects

  • Postcolonial Europe (2008-2010)

    AHRC networking grant for project Postcolonial Europe
    Postcolonial Europe is a 2-year network research (2008-2010) funded by the British Arts
    and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Postcolonial Europe is an international and
    interdisciplinary venture between the University of Leeds (principal investigator Prof. dr.
    Graham Huggan), the University of Utrecht (investigator Dr. Sandra Ponzanesi) and the
    University of Munich (investigator Prof. dr. Tobias Doering).
    The main objective of the network is to work toward a further understanding of how
    postcolonial theories and methods might be applied, not beyond Europe -- as is more
    usually the case -- but to Europe itself from a variety of disciplinary perspectives
    (literary, linguistic, historical, sociological, anthropological, cultural-political).
    The network will be organized in the first instance around the topic of ‘Occidentalism’,
    ‘Orientalism’ and the ‘post-secular’ both within and beyond Europe’s borders. The
    activities of the network will focus on the organization of two workshops and a
    postgraduate conference, the creation of an interactive website and publication of an
    edited volume.
    The activities at Utrecht University will be coordinated by Sandra Ponzanesi in
    collaboration with the Research Institute for History and Culture, The Centre for the
    Humanities and the Graduate Gender Programme.

    For more information on the project:


Among the outputs of this project is a special issue by Moving World: Journal of Journal of Transcultural Writings. Vol. 1, issue 2, 2011.

Edited by Graham Huggan, this issue includes articles by Zygmunt Bauman, Étienne Balibar, Paul Gilroy, Simon Glendinning, Luisa Passerini, Max Silverman, Sandra Ponzanesi, Cordula Lemke, Margaret Fetzer, Paulo de Medeiros and John McLeod.

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  • Postcolonial Europe. Gender, Ethnicity and Migration (Athena 2 and 3, 2003-2009).

  • Sandra Ponzanesi and Bolette Blaagaard coordinators

Postcolonial Europe is one of the projects of Athena, an Advanced Thematic Network in Activities in Women's Studies in Europe which brings together over 120 institutes from 27 countries in the interdisciplinary field of Women's Studies and gender research. ATHENA was created in 1996 by the Association of Institutions for Feminist Education and Research in Europe (AOIFE) and was selected as a Socrates Thematic Network Project in September 1998. The ATHENA central coordination is located at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. In 2003 it started a new cycle of three years of activities and meetings, called Athena 2. Athena 2 aimed at consolidating and expanding the European dimension in women's and gender studies in teaching, learning and research. In 2006 Athena 3 was approved by the European Commission for its third cycle of activities (2006-2009). The Advanced Thematic Network of Women’s Studies in Europe which will continue as a standing group under AtGender. The European Association for Gender research:

The website for the MA course "Postcolonial Europe. Gender, Ethnicity and Migration" is the output of  working group 'Postcolonial Europe'under Athena2. It aims at establishing the state of the art of postcolonial studies in/on Europe from a gender, ethnic and transnational perspective and is meant to be used as a source for bibliography, websites and critical references that address Europe from a postcolonial perspective in which national inflections and the specificities of gender and ethnicity are addressed. For more information visit the website:

The output of the ‘Postcolonial Europe’ working group under Athena 3 is: 

Special issue on 'Postcolonial Europe: Transcultural and Multidisciplinary Perspectives' published in Social Identities.  Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture. Vol. 17, n. 1, 2011

Guest edited by Sandra Ponzanesi and Bolette Blaagaard

IdentitiesThis special issue approaches feminist, postcolonial and race theory from different cultural, disciplinary and national backgrounds. The contributors engage with the question of what makes Europe postcolonial and how memory, whiteness and religion figure in representations and manifestations of European ‘identity’ and self perception.

Contents (see attachment)

Social Identities journal

Social Identities, published by Routledge, is an international and interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal which theorises issues at the interface of social identities in the context of the transforming political economies and cultures of postmodern and postcolonial conditions. Editors are Pal Ahluwalia (University of South Australia, Australia) and Toby Miller (Professor of English, Sociology, and Women's Studies, University of California, Riverside, USA).

The special Issue has been republished as a book Deconstructing Europe: Postcolonial Perspectives. Sandra Ponzanesi and Bolette Blaagaard (eds.)London and New York, Routledge, 2011.


NWO-VENI (National Endowment for the Humanities).

  • Through Global Words. Postcolonial Literature, Literary Prizes and the Academy: 1981-2001.

In this project I combine an analysis of globalisation with postcolonial theory and literary criticism. The project aims to connect social and commercial issues linked to a rapidly homogenising consumer culture with shifts in the aesthetics of reception and canonization, that are increasingly challenging Western norms through a focus on local issues of place, and on gender and ethnic identity.

More specifically I investigate the literary, marketing and institutional strategies that have allowed prize winning postcolonial authors to achieve international prominence and be included within the academic discourse. The goal is to demonstrate that the understanding and reception of postcolonial literature is, on the one hand, linked to new global mechanisms of production and consumption, which, on the other hand remain beholden to national discourses.


Past projects

Grotius Postdoctoral Research Fellow (University of Amsterdam)

  • Writing New Identities in Europe. Multiculturalism in cities of difference

In this project I analyzed the discursive strategies conveyed by migrant writers to represent the metropolitan space. The city is, in fact, the site where the national boundaries are most porous and where wider interventions on cultural transformation take place. By analyzing the way in which urban landscapes are represented from marginal positions new European identities can be envisaged in their multiplicity, heterogeneity and transformativity. 

The project resulted in the organization of a three- International Conference   "Writing Europe 2001: Migrant Cartographies. Cultural Travellers and New Literatures", University of Amsterdam/University of Leiden, 22-23-24 March 2001 in collaboration with Dr. Daniela Merolla. Keynote speakers Paul Gilroy, Robert Fraser, Graham Huggan, Alec G. Hargreaves, Graziella Parati and others.  

As a follow up to the conference we published a book entitled Migrant Cartographies.  New Cultural and Literary Spaces in Postcolonial Europe (Lexington, 2005 with Daniela Merolla). In this book we focused on the interdisciplinary and multi-linguistic character of migrant cultures within Europe by linking current fluxes of migration to different European imperial legacies and to contemporary postcolonial representations in literature, cinema and new media paying particular attention to issues of identity, belonging, race and citizenship.


Graduate Research Project, OGC (Research Institute for History and Culture), Utrecht University.

  • Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture: Feminism and Diaspora in South-Asian and Afro-Italian Women Narratives. (PhD, Utrecht 1999)

The result of this doctoral project was later updated and revised for the publication of the book Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture. Contemporary Women Writers of the Indian and Afro-Italian Diaspora (Suny 2004). In this text I make an intervention into postcolonial studies aiming at mapping the forgotten and repressed history of minor colonial empires,  such as the Italian one, and to set it in a transnational framework of comparative postcolonial literatures in order to analyse dislocations of power and representations.