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Paul Gilroy

Paul Gilroy (born 16 February 1956) is a Professor of American and English Literature at King's College London.


  • Biography 1
  • The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness 2
  • Bibliography 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Born in the East End of London to Guyanese and English parents (his mother was novelist Beryl Gilroy),[1] he was educated at University College School and obtained his bachelor's degree at Sussex University in 1978. He moved to Birmingham University where he completed his PhD in 1986.

Gilroy is a scholar of Cultural Studies and Black Atlantic diasporic culture with interests in the "myriad manifestations of black British culture."[2] He is the author of There Ain't no Black in the Union Jack (1987), Small Acts (1993), The Black Atlantic (1993), Between Camps (2000; also published as Against Race in the United States), and After Empire (2004; published as Postcolonial Melancholia in the United States), among other works. Gilroy was also co-author of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 1970s Britain (1982), a path-breaking, collectively produced volume published under the imprint of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, where he was a doctoral student working with the Jamaican intellectual Stuart Hall. Other members of the group which produced that volume included Valerie Amos and Pratibha Parmar.

Gilroy taught at South Bank University, Essex University, and then Goldsmiths College for many years before leaving London to take up a tenured post at Yale University, where he was the chair of the Department of African American Studies and Charlotte Marian Saden Professor of Sociology and African American Studies.[3] He was the first holder of the Anthony Giddens Professorship in Social Theory at the London School of Economics before he joined King's College London in September 2012.[4]

Gilroy worked for the Greater London Council for several years during the 1980s before becoming an academic. During that period, he was associated with the weekly listings magazine City Limits (where he was a contributing editor between 1982 and 1984) and The Wire (where he had a regular column from 1988 to 1991).[5] Other publications he wrote for during this period include New Musical Express, The New Internationalist and New Statesman and Society.[5]

Gilroy is known as a path-breaking scholar and historian of the music of the Black Atlantic diaspora, as a commentator on the politics of race, nation and racism in the UK, and as an archaeologist of the literary and cultural lives of blacks in the western hemisphere. According to the US Journal of Blacks in Higher Education he has been consistently among the most frequently cited black scholars in the humanities and social sciences.[6] He held the top position in the humanities rankings in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Gilroy's theories of race, racism and culture were influential in shaping the cultural and political movement of black British people during the 1990s. Along with people like Lenny Henry, Trevor Nelson, Norman Jay, and Ian Wright he has enabled black British people to maintain their native integrity.

Gilroy was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of London by Goldsmiths College in September 2005.[7] In Autumn 2009 he served as Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor at the Centre for Humanities, Utrecht University.[8] In 2014 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.[9]

He is married to the writer, photographer and academic Vron Ware. The couple live in North London, and have two children, Marcus and Cora.

The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness

Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993) marks a turning point in the study of diasporas.[10] Applying a cultural studies approach, Gilroy provides a study of African intellectual history and its cultural construction.[11] Moving away from all cultural forms that could be deemed ethnic absolutism, Gilroy offers the concept of the Black Atlantic as a space of transnational cultural construction.[12] In his book, Gilroy makes the peoples who suffered from the Atlantic slave trade the emblem of his new concept of diasporic peoples. This new concept breaks with the traditional diasporic model based on the idea that diasporic people are separated by a communal source or origin, offering a second model that privileges hybridity.[13] Gilroy's theme of Double Consciousness involves Black Atlantic striving to be both European and Black through their relationship to the land of their birth and their ethnic political constituency being absolutely transformed.[12]

Rather than encapsulating the African-American tradition within national borders, Gilroy recognizes the actual significance of European and African travels of many African-American writers. To prove his point, Gilroy re-reads the works of African-American intellectuals against the background of a trans-Atlantic context.[14] Gilroy’s concept of the Black Atlantic fundamentally disrupts contemporary forms of cultural nationalism and reopens the field of African-American studies by enlarging the field's interpretive framework.[14]

Gilroy uses the transatlantic slave trade to highlight the influence of “routes” on black identity. He uses the image of a ship to represent how authentic black culture is composed of cultural exchanges since the slave trade stifled blacks ability to connect to a homeland. He claims that there was a cultural exchange as well as a commodity exchange that defines the transatlantic slave trade and thus black culture.

An example of how Gilroy and his concepts in the Black Atlantic directly affected a specific field of African-American studies would be its role in defining and influencing the shift between the political black British movement of the 1960/70s to the 1980/90s.[15] Gilroy came to reject outright the working-class movements of the 1970s and '80s on the basis that the system and logic behind the movements was fundamentally flawed as a result of its roots in the way of thinking that not only ignored race but also the trans-Atlantic experience as an integral part of the black experience and history.[16] This argument is expanded upon in one of his previous co-authored books, The Empire Strikes Back (1983), which was supported by the (now closed) Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies of the University of Birmingham in the UK. The Black Atlantic received an American Book Award in 1994. It has subsequently been translated into Italian, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. The influence of the study is generally accepted to be profound, though academics continue to debate in exactly what form its greatest significance may lie.[17]

The theoretical use of the ocean as a liminal space alternative to the authority of nation-states has been highly generative in diasporic studies, in spite of Gilroy’s own desire to avoid such conflations.[18]The image of water and migration has been taken up as well by later scholars of the Black diaspora, including Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Isabel Hofmeyr, and Stephanie E. Smallwood.[19]

Among the academic responses to Gilroy's Black Atlantic thesis are: Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by The Black Atlantic" (1996, Canadian Ethnic Studies 28.3).[20]


  • (1982) (co-author) The Empire Strikes Back - Race and Racism in '70s Britain, London: Hutchinson/Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
  • (1987) There Ain't No Black In the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, London: Hutchinson
  • (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London: Verso
  • (1993) Small Acts: thoughts on the politics of black cultures, London: Serpent's Tail
  • (1995) "Hendrix, hip-hop e l’interruzione del pensiero" with Iain Chambers, Costa & Nolan.
  • (2000) Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  • (2000) Between Camps: Nations, Culture and the Allure of Race, London: Allen Lane
  • (2000) Without Guarantees: Essays In Honour of Stuart Hall (co-edited with Angela McRobbie and Lawrence Grossberg), London: Verso
  • (2004) After Empire: Multiculture or Postcolonial Melancholia, London: Routledge
  • (2007) Black Britain - A Photographic History (with an introduction by Stuart Hall), London: Saqi
  • (2009) (co-author) Kuroi Taiseiyo to Chishikijin no Genzai (The Black Atlantic and Intellectuals Today), Shoraisha
  • (2010) Darker Than Blue: On The Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (Harvard)


  1. ^ Paul Williams, Paul Gilroy (Routledge Critical Thinkers), Routledge, 2013, p. 19.
  2. ^ Lane, Richard J. Fifty Key Literary Theorists. London: Routledge, 2006, pp. 138.
  3. ^ "Paul Gilroy is designated as the Charlotte Marion Saden Professor", Yale Bulletin & Calendar, Volume 32, Number 31, June 4, 2004,
  4. ^ "Academic Staff: Professor Paul Gilroy", King's College London.
  5. ^ a b Paul Gilroy Curriculum Vitae.
  6. ^ "JBHE’s Annual Citation Rankings of Black Scholars in the Social Sciences and the Humanities", The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2009.
  7. ^ "Honorary degrees of the University of London, conferred at Goldsmiths' College", Goldsmiths University of London.
  8. ^ "Prof. Paul Gilroy first Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor", Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University, 27 August 2009.
  9. ^ "British Academy announces 42 new fellows". Times Higher Education. 18 July 2014. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  10. ^ Chivallon, Christine. "Beyond Gilroy's Black Atlantic: The Experience of the African Diaspora". Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (Winter 2002): pp. 359-382 (p. 359).
  11. ^ Barnes, Natasha. "Black Atlantic: Black America", Research in African Literatures, 27, n4 (Winter 1996): pp. 106.
  12. ^ a b Braziel, Jana Evans and Mannur, Anita. Theorizing Diaspora. Blackwell Publishing; Malden, MA: 2006, p. 49.
  13. ^ Chivallon, Christine, p. 359.
  14. ^ a b Erickson, Peter. Reviews. African American Review, Vol. 31, Issue 3 (Fall 1997): p. 506.
  15. ^ Skukra, Kalbir. "The Death of a Black Political Movement." Community Development Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July 1997): p. 233.
  16. ^ Shukra, Kalbir, p. 234.
  17. ^ Lucy Evans, "The Black Atlantic: Exploring Gilroy's Legacy", in Dave Gunning and Abigail Ward (eds), Tracing Black America in Black British Culture, Special Issue of Atlantic Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2 (August 2009), pp. 255-68.
  18. ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes. "The Uses of Diaspora". Social Text 66(19): 2001, 45-73.
  19. ^ Tinsley, Omise’eke Natasha. "Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 14(2-3): 2008, 191-215.; Hofmeyr, Isabel. "The Black Atlantic Meets the Indian Ocean: Forging New Paradigms of Transnatinalism for the Global South – Literary and Cultural Perspectives". Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies, 33(2):2008, 37-41; Smallwood, Stephanie. Saltwater Slavery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  20. ^ George Elliott Clarke, "Must All Blackness Be American?: Locating Canada in Borden’s 'Tightrope Time,' or Nationalizing Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic". Athabasca University, October 11, 2012.

Further reading

  • McNeil, Daniel. Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic: Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messiahs. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Nishikawa, Kinohi. "Paul Gilroy", in Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey, Jr (eds), The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. 5 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 630-32.

External links

  • Paul Gilroy - Bibliography
  • Paul Gilroy on Twitter - [1]
  • Lecture on 2011 August Insurrection in the UK
  • Articles on openDemocracy
  • Interviewed by Prof. Tommie Shelby in Transition Magazine (2007)
  • Interview: Paul Gilroy in Conversation (2007); Video: Contemporary Racisms: David Theo Goldberg and Paul Gilroy (2007) - darkmatter Journal
  • The Black Atlantic website -
  • The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education citation rankings.
  • Gilroy discusses his photographic history of Black Britain on NPR.
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