Department of French and Italian

Home » People » Robert Barsky

Robert Barsky


Robert Barsky, Ph.D. McGill

Chair, Department of French and Italian

Professor of French, English and Jewish Studies
Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor (2011-2012)



Robert Franklin Barsky is a professor of English, French, Jewish Studies and Comparative Literature. His work is deeply interdisciplinary, relating to 19th and 20th Century literature, literary theory, immigration, the milieus of Noam Chomsky, and the law/literature overlap.

Barsky was born and raised in Montréal. He attended Brandeis University, and then undertook graduate work at McGill University focused first on Lord Byron (“Byron and Catastrophism”), and then on the application of discourse and literary theories to Convention refugee transcripts. He was a Professeur sous octroi for the Institut national de recherché scientifique (INRS), before taking up a post-doc with Michel Meyer on rhetoric and argumentation at l’Université libre de Bruxelles, in Belgium. He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, l’Université du Québec à Montréal, and in 2002 was named the Canadian Bicentennial Visiting Professor at Yale.

Barsky is the author or editor of numerous books on: narrative and law (Constructing a Productive Other: Discourse Theory and the Convention Refugee Hearing [1994] and Arguing and Justifying: Assessing the Convention Refugees’ Choice of Moment, Motive and Host Country [2000]); on radical theory and practice (Zellig Harris: From American Linguistics to Socialist Zionism [2011], The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower [2007], Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent [1997] and an edition of Anton Pannekoek’s Workers Councils [2002]); on discourse and literary theory (Introduction à la théorie littéraire [1997], an edited volume with Michael Holquist, Bakhtin and Otherness [1990], an edited collection with Eric Méchoulan, The Production of French Criticism [2002], an edited collection called Marc Angenot and the Scandal of History [2004], numerous edited collections for AmeriQuests ( including “Quests Beyond the Ivory Tower: Public Intellectuals, Academia and the Media”, with Saleem Ali); and on translation — in both theory and practice (including a translation of Michel Meyer’s Philosophy and the Passions [2000]). He has been involved with a range of journals, including SubStance, for which he served as an editor, Literary Research (ICLA) for which he served as Managing Editor, and he is the founder of 415 South Street, a literary magazine, Discours social/Social Discourse, and the international on-line journal AmeriQuests.

Barsky is currently a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Toulouse, and holds a Visiting Professorship at the Law School of the VU Amsterdam, under the auspices of the Dutch Royal Society. He is also the Faculty Director of the W.T. Bandy Center, the Founding Director of Quebec and Canadian Studies, and the Faculty Head of House for West House.