Anca Parvulescu

​Professor of English
Pronouns: she/her/hers
Liselotte Dieckmann Professor in Comparative Literature
PhD, University of Minnesota
research interests:
  • Global modernism
  • Literary and Critical Theory
  • Literary Comparatism
  • Migration Studies
  • East Europe
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Anca Parvulescu's research and teaching interests include global modernism, literary and critical theory, literary comparatism, migration studies, and East Europe.

    Anca Parvulescu is the author of three books: Laughter: Notes on a Passion (MIT Press, 2010); The Traffic in Women’s Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2014); and, with Manuela Boatcă, Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires (Cornell University Press, 2022). Parvulescu’s articles have been published in PMLA, New Literary History, Critical Inquiry, Literature Compass, Interventions, Camera Obscura. Her work has been funded by the ACLS, the Huntington Library, the American Councils for International Education, the McDonnell Academy, and the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St Louis. She has received the Outstanding Mentor Award and the Miriam Bailin Prize for Teaching.

    Parvulescu is currently at work on two book projects: Modernist Faces: Physiognomy and Facial Form argues that contemporary technologies of facial recognition embed a form of the face inherited from physiognomy, which was both reproduced and challenged by modernist authors. An article from this project, “The Biography of a Face: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando,” appeared in Journal of Modern Literature.

    The second project, The Birth of Comparison, traces the emergence of the discipline of Comparative Literature and the comparative method in a number of cultural geographies around the world. Parvulescu has written a cluster of articles on literary comparatism: “Istanbul, Capital of Comparative Literature”; “(Dis)Counting Languages: Between Hugo Meltzl and Liviu Rebreanu”; and “The World of World Literature and World-Systems Analysis.” 

    Parvulescu’s most recent book, Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires, co-authored with Manuela Boatcă (Freiburg University, Germany), bridges debates in world literature and world-systems analysis to ask how “the world” looks like from the perspective of a small village in Transylvania, historically situated at the crossroads of multiple empires. The book won three academic awards: the René Wellek Prize for Best Book in Comparative Literature, offered by the American Comparative Literature Association; the Barrington Moore Award for Best Book in Comparative and Historical Sociology, offered by the American Sociological Association; and an Honorable Mention of the Immanuel Wallerstein Award, also offered by the American Sociological Association. It is forthcoming in Romanian and German translations.

    Creolizing the Modern


    The Traffic in Women's Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe participates in debates on Europeanization following the EU expansion into East Europe. It argues that the critical project of pluralizing Europe needs to account for the Europe brought together through the circulation of East European women’s labor. Reading recent cinematic texts that critically frame this labor, the book shows East European migrant women, alongside women from the global South, becoming responsible for the biopolitical labor of reproduction, whether they work as domestics, nannies, nurses, sex workers, or wives. Contributions to two handbooks on migration are forthcoming. 

    The Traffic in Women's Work: East European Migration and the Making of  Europe, Parvulescu


    Laughter: Notes on a Passion argues for the importance of considering the burst of laughter as an object of analysis, apart from comedy, humor, and jokes. The book has inspired art exhibits in New York and Hamburg and a number of adjacent publications, including translations into French and Turkish. Parvulescu contributed the entry on “Laughter” to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. “Even Laughter? From Laughter in the Magic Theater to the Laughter Assembly Line,” appeared in Critical Inquiry, in a special issue on theories of laughter, which also included “Essay on Laughter,” by Norbert Elias, edited by Parvulescu.

    Laughter: Notes on a Passion (Short Circuits): Parvulescu, Anca:  9780262514743: Books

    Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires

    Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires

    Co-authored with Manuela Boatca, Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires (Cornell University Press, 2022) was supported by an ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship. The book places Transylvania in inter-related debates in World Literature, World History and World-Systems Analysis. How does “the world” look like from the vantage point of a small village in Transylvania? The project places this multi-ethnic and multilingual region in a comparative framework that yields a fresh perspective on the comparative method itself.

    The Traffic in Women's Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe

    The Traffic in Women's Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe

    “Welcome to the European family!” When East European countries joined the European Union under this banner after 1989, they agreed to the free movement of goods, services, capital, and persons. In this book, Anca Parvulescu analyzes an important niche in this imagined European kinship: the traffic in women, or the circulation of East European women in West Europe in marriage and as domestic servants, nannies, personal attendants, and entertainers. Analyzing film, national policies, and an impressive range of work by theorists from Giorgio Agamben to Judith Butler, she develops a critical lens through which to think about the transnational continuum of “women’s work.”

    Laughter: Notes on a Passion

    Laughter: Notes on a Passion

    Most of our theories of laughter are not concerned with laughter. Rather, their focus is the laughable object, whether conceived of as the comic, the humorous, jokes, the grotesque, the ridiculous, or the ludicrous. In Laughter, Anca Parvulescu proposes a return to the materiality of the burst of laughter itself. She sets out to uncover an archive of laughter, inviting us to follow its rhythms and listen to its tones.