SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Ambra Guarnieri

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Ambra Guarnieri
Ambra Guarnieri
Email address:
Thesis title:
Towards A Dialogical Writing Practice: Poetics and Strategies of Representation in Postcolonial Literature
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


As a scholar I have a varied background. I obtained a BA in Philosophy and a MA in History of Philosophy at the University of Rome La Sapienza, graduating with honours. My MA dissertation explored the economic aspects inherent in the philosophical thought of Georges Bataille and Jacques Derrida, particularly in relation to the dynamics of Hegel's dialectical system. My dissertation aimed to establish a connection between these philosophical perspectives and Freud's reflections that economic principles are inherent to the dynamics of functioning of the human psyche. Subsequently, I studied French Phenomenology by studying at École Des Hautes Études En Sciences Sociales of Paris. 

In 2010 I moved to London, and became interested in issues around global development. I gained my Masters in International Journalism from City University in 2011, specializing in the developmental issues of African countries.

In 2012 I started my Mphil/Phd at the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial at SOAS with the intention of bringing together my long-standing interest in the History of Ideas with the more recent interest in the political, economic and cultural issues of the contemporary world. I found that Postcolonial Theory naturally blended these two interests admirably. I found that the perspectives elaborated by many postcolonial theorists could provide important frameworks  for  understanding some of the most important ideological issues of our age,  particularly for interrogating the characteristics of an allegedly “postcolonial” world order. Furthermore, as a Philosophy graduate from an European institution, approaching Postcolonial Theory for the first time allowed me to actively acknowledge the Eurocentricity in which my education had been entangled, hopefully empowering me to overcome its narrow perspective.

Aside from my academic background, I have experience in the publishing and communication sectors. I have worked for many years at the press office of cultural institutions such as Biennale in Venice, Italy, and as a freelance journalist for Italian and English cultural magazines. Among these, I've been a contributor for the Italian magazine Venews, partner of the American entertainment magazine Variety in the daily coverage of the Venice International Film Festival, and a researcher for INFO, the bi-monthly magazine edited by the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain, and for the The Literary Review.

PhD Research

My research project focuses on the forms and the dynamics of representation in postcolonial literature, and will analyse different works of literature set in the regions of Africa, the Middle East and India. Specifically, I will critically examine the works of Laura Bohannan, Richard Kapuscinski, Amitav Ghosh and V.S. Naipaul. Through the close reading of these texts, I will illustrate how the authors use particular strategies to unlearn the “dominative” mode of representation, and recreate in the space of the text a dialogic or polyphonic space.

This work aims to move away from the mainstream intellectual trend that has permeated much of postcolonial literary criticism, informed primarily by Edward Said's Orientalism. Orientalism initiated a powerful academic and intellectual paradigm, and brought a greater awareness about the relationship between power and knowledge in a field that has too often been considered apolitical and neutral. 

Said did close reading of literary and visual texts to expose the asymmetrical relationship between the Western author and the Oriental society being represented. Said has highlighted how the unequal relationship of power produced at the level of representation echoed the position of strength and authority that the individual author – as a member or a representative of a particular civil and political society – arrogated to himself vis-á-vis the 'Oriental' subject. Gayatri Spivak’s work also aligns with the critical orientation that views the Western author in a position of semantic privilege with regards to the Non-Western subject. In her work A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Spivak offers readings from nineteenth and twentieth century European literary and philosophical texts and uses them to re-elaborate the psychoanalytic concept of foreclosure, arguing that the European or Western-educated author and philosopher always hides, omits or minimizes the Third World subject's perspective, resulting in a representation of the subaltern subject that is made from the author's own, authorial and monologic point of view.

Departing from this critical orientation, I will investigate how Western or Westerly-educated  authors represent the non-Western subject in such a way that allows the subject broader margins for expression and self-expression.  I intend to illustrate how the aesthetic artifices of laughter, irony, and parody,alongside other stylistic choices, attest to the existence of a much more  complex discursive space in the literary realm than the one that Said and Spivak describe. I will investigate texts that belong to a variety of genres, especially ethnography and creative writing. I am juxtaposing these different genres because both offer a representation of a different, “unfamiliar” culture from an outsider's perspective, and both draw on their personal experience of  encounters with the foreign. These encounters often happen in highly “hybridized” social spaces.

Through my analysis I will illustrate how the ideological changes that have taken place in the postcolonial order are primarily evident in the stylistic choices behind the making of these texts, “encapsulated” in their rhetorical aspects, and reflected by the conscious or unconscious choices of their authors. I tried to re-orient my own position on the relationship between the author and the subject represented by constructing a critical framework that draws on  Michael Bakhtin's work on the European novel, the work of James Clifford and the Writing Culture Movement on ethnographic writing, as well as more recent contributions in the field of cultural anthropology.

By considering both the micro-politics of the text and the macro-politics of the environment that stands in the background to its production, I will show that a certain shift has taken place in the author's epistemic position with regards to his representation of society, and that  this shift is a consequence of specific historical ruptures and ideological changes that have taken  place in the environment with the postcolonial order of the world.

The task of this work is therefore to illustrate how the historical and ideological changes brought by the postcolonial world order impact the individual creative consciousness of the author,  how these are reflected in the stylistic choices of the text, and to reflect on how their author attempts to re-create in it a dialogic and polyphonic space.