In defence of Radical Inquiry in Comparative Literature, Translation and the Study of Language(s) – 5: The non-hierarchical university

We thank Rosa Mucignat for her contribution to this series of posts arising from the LINKS event that took place on 13 June 2022.  A description of the occasion can be found here. For previous posts, please scroll down; further posts in the series will be published over the next couple of days.


LINKS and the non-hierarchical university

The threat to Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths was a shock for all of us who teach and research in this growing field. Comparative Literature is a relatively new discipline in the UK and has a longer tradition in Europe and America. But in the last 20 years, CompLit programmes have been opened and expanded in a number of British universities. In London, King’s, UCL and Goldsmiths were the first three institutions to offer comparative studies degrees, swiftly followed by Queen Mary, Birkbeck, Royal Holloway, and SOAS (in no particular order). Even in the aftermath of the financial crisis, when many sectors of Higher Education faced harsh cuts, Comparative Literature kept growing. It was in the context of this post-crisis buoyancy that LINKS was born. LINKS, or London Intercollegiate Network of Comparative Studies, is the brainchild of Kaja Marczewska, then a brilliant MA student in Comparative Literature at King’s, now Head of Collections Research at the National Archives.

In 2009 she approached me with the idea of organizing a graduate conference that would bring together MA students from other Comparative Literature programmes in London, as a way of creating a community in what was still a fragmented field.

UCL’s Florian Mussgnung, Lucia Boldrini of Goldsmiths and I jumped at the opportunity and devised the model of an itinerant annual meeting that would be hosted by each institution in turn. Kaja and I organized the first conference at King’s, and Goldsmiths ran it in 2012, followed by two more iterations as the circle of LINKS associates widened. In 2014, LINKS found its ideal institutional home at the Institute of Modern Languages Research at Senate House, where it organized a public seminar series, now part of the Convocation Seminars in World Literature and Translations, led by Joseph Ford.

LINKS emerged as an informal network in a father fortuitous and unplanned manner. But perhaps this is the reason for its lasting success: we have often worked in the interstices of our respective institutional structures, sometimes below the radar, coming together as individual researchers and students in a space free from the dictates of marketing, branding, impact and public engagement as university managers understand it. And we have offered exceptional value for money – our eagerness to bypass institutional channels and economize extending to the purchase and transport (in Lucia’s smoothly wheeled suitcase) of food and drinks.

LINKS is a true network, built from the bottom-up in a collaborative spirit, with no hierarchies and out of a shared interest and investment in our discipline. As universities increasingly adopt market strategies based on competition, low-cost, high-yield business models, and customer satisfaction, LINKS has stood for a different paradigm: the university not as a service provider but a community of scholars and students that collaborate with and challenge each other, invested in the creation and sharing of knowledge, and open to the public. As we know, this transversal, self-determined flow of ideas and people is vital to the advancement of a field of study, especially one that is interdisciplinary in nature like CompLit. The cuts at Goldsmiths affect us all – they will mutilate and disfigure the networks we rely on to keep our discipline alive.

Rosa Mucignat
Reader in Comparative Literature