Prof Sarah Dillon, Faculty of English



Biographical Information

Email: sjd27 [at]

I read English at Clare College, Cambridge, graduating in 1998. I went on to gain an M.A. in Philosophy and Literature from the University of Warwick in 1999 and a D.Phil. in English from the University of Sussex in 2004. I taught at the University of St Andrews for eight years, from 2006-2014, first as a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature. I joined the Cambridge Faculty of English in 2014, where I am now Professor of Literature and the Public Humanities.

I am a member of the Faculty of English's Contemporaries research group and the interdisciplinary Cambridge Centre for Film and Screen. I am the General Editor of the book series Contemporary Writers: Critical Essays (formerly Gylphi, now Routledge) and serve on the editorial boards of Public Humanities, C21: Journal of Twenty-First Century Writing, Fantastika, and Journal of Social and Cultural Possibilities

I have held leadership positions as Director of the Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership, as a Programme Director at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, as the Faculty's Director of Postgraduate Studies, and as Chair of the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies. I am currently part of the Academic Advisory Network for Cambridge's Centre for Gender Studies. I sit on the Management Committee of CRASSH and on the Management Board of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.


BBC Broadcasting and Partnership:

In 2013 I was selected as an Arts and Humanities Research Council & BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker and thereafter have broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. I co-created, wrote and presented the documentary series Literary Pursuits on Radio 3 from 2016-2019, and the Close Reading feature on Radio 4’s Open Book from 2014-2016. I also brokered and managed the University of Cambridge's partnership with the BBC on the National Short Story Award, and with the BBC and First Story on the Young Writers' Award and Student Critics' Award from 2017-20, and brokered the renewal of the partnership with the BBC (2020-23). 

Details of all my public and media activities can be found on my website and blog.


Research Interests

I am a scholar of late twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature, film and philosophy, with a research focus on the epistemic function and role of stories, on interdisciplinarity, and on the public humanities. My work takes place at sites of intersection and interconnection, between disciplines and fields (literary theory and criticism, literature and science studies, science fiction studies, film studies, continental philosophy, feminist theory and criticism), and between sectors (academia, media, and government). I locate my work at such sites in order to analyse, theorise and perform the specific modes of thought and knowledge offered by literature and cinema, and the humanities more broadly.

In addition to my individual research, I have received funding awards for collaborative research and/or research impact projects from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University of Cambridge's Arts and Humanities Impact Fund and CAPE (Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement). From May 2020 to December 2021 I was co-PI, with Dr Richard Staley (History and Philosophy of Science), of the University of Cambridge Mellon Sawyer Seminar - 'Histories of Artifical Intelligence: A Geneaology of Power'.

The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory (London: Bloomsbury Academic: 2007) 

The topic of my first book, The Palimpsest (based on my doctoral thesis), arose out of my interest in interrelationality. Palimpsests are interdisciplinary objects, both literally and figuratively - in fact, the palimpsest is itself a figure for interdisciplinarity, for the productive violence of the entanglement, interruption and inhabitation of disciplines in and on each other. In The Palimpsest, I focus on the relationship between literature, criticism, theory and philosophy, with each chapter interweaving theorisation of the concept of the palimpsest (via thinkers such as Abraham and Torok, Butler, Derrida, Genette, Heidegger, Kristeva and Riffaterre), with close readings of literary texts in which the metaphor figures, including works by Thomas De Quincey, Arthur Conan Doyle, D.H. Lawrence, H.D., Umberto Eco and Ian McEwan. The book investigates the palimpsest's structure and logic in order to develop a theory of palimpsestuous relationality, and in order to demonstrate how this provides a conceptual structure for thinking anew about history, subjectivity, temporality, textuality and sexuality. 

Deconstruction, Feminism, Film (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

My second book, Deconstruction, Feminism, Film (delayed due to having children), continues the methodological and intellectual interests developed in The Palimpsest. Here, I interrogate the interrelationship between the fields indicated in the book's title: deconstruction, feminism, and film. I do so through a dual feminist methodology of critique and generation, which aims to balance careful elaboration of the possibilities Derrida’s work offers to feminist and film thought, with detailed critique of his thinking about gender, sexuality, film and the visual. The book's general philosophical work is performed through singular close readings of key visual texts linked to deconstruction: Ken McMullen's Ghost Dance (1983), Joanna Callaghan's Love in the PostFrom Plato to Derrida (2014), Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman's Derrida (2002), and Marie Franc╠žoise Plissart’s photonovel Right of Inspection (1985). I place these key deconstructive visual texts within their cinematic as well as philosophical contexts. I do so in order to theorise and perform the possibilities of a contemporary deconstructive feminist film critical practice, as well as to offer new feminist theories of spectatorship, realism vs artifice, narrative, adaptation, auto/biography, and the still. 

Storylistening: Narrative Evidence and Public Reasoning, co-authored with Claire Craig (London: Routledge, 2021)

This book arose out of collaborative thinking with Claire Craig about the relationship between literature and the humanities, and public discourse and decision-making. It was fed by my intellectual interest in interrelationship and interdisciplinarity and in how and why stories function and matter, as well as by the knowledge gained from my public work - primarily my broadcasting - through which I have been researching in practice how the humanities contributes to public life beyond academia. With this book, we make the case for the value of attention to stories, and the importance of understanding their functions and effects, in the context of high-level decision-making and policymaking. The book identifies four relevant functions of stories in this context. Stories can offer alternative points of view, create and cohere collective identities, function as narrative models, and play a crucial role in anticipation. The book demonstrates how literary and other narratives function in this way in relation to four areas of public decision-making and reasoning where decisions are strongly influenced by contentious knowledge and powerful imaginings: climate change, the economy, nuclear power, and artificial intelligence. We argue that the task of taking stories seriously is urgent now, as recent political events have exposed the limits of technocratic evidence, and aim to create the conditions in which the task of listening to stories is possible, expected and becomes endemic. The book therefore provides insights to enable those engaged in public reasoning to consider the roles of stories more carefully, and to incorporate humanities evidence into decision-making; it also makes strong arguments for the ways in which the humanities disciplines as a whole might extend their imagining of themselves, and their structures and practices, in order to play a more active role in informing public reasoning.

Work in Progress

I am currently finishing a hopefully helpful student guide to How to Study the Contemporary. Two ongoing research projects are currently vying to be next in line for sustained attention: one is a literary history of AI, which traces the manifest intersections between its scientific and technological development, and literature; the other is a study of twenty-first century anglophone space opera, in particular focusing on the texts's engagements with questions of (de)colonisation, climate change and AI. 


Areas of Graduate Supervision

I supervise postgraduate students, and mentor postdoctoral students, working on twentieth and/or twentieth-first century literature, flm or culture, who share any of my research interests. I am particularly interested in supervising projects that build on or extend the work presented in Storylistening in a theoretical and/or practical capacity.

I am currently supervising doctoral projects on: contemporary British novels and twenty-first century conspiracy theories; science fiction film and the philosophy of narrative identity; feminist revisionist literature; the parallel text in post-1960s feminist art writing; queer cultural memory and contemporary literature; and planetary memory in queer speculative fiction. Doctoral projects with a specific policy focus, deploying the storylisteinng framework, include a project analysing the complexity of the AI alignment problem through AI narratives to complement AI strategy research, and a storylistening based study into narratives of coercive and controlling behaviour across contemporary texts, and the interactions of those narratives with public reasoning. 

Previous doctoral projects supervised have investigated: the role of techno-companions and embodied AI in stratifying assignments of humanness; the speculative archive in African American literature, culture and history; queer young adult fiction; Ian McEwan and phenomenology; sex in contemporary literature; William Gibson and the gestalt; literature of the anthropocene; the aestheticisation of failure in contemporary cultural theory and production; and contemporary dystopian fiction.

Current PhD Students: Claudia Cornelissen, Emma Gomis-Watson, Rhona Jamieson, Aaron Muldoon, Kerry Shanahan, Nichole Anderson Ravindran, Sonji Shah, Sarah Woodward

Current Postdoctoral Mentees: Julia Empey, Dominic Walker


Selected Publications



- authored

How to Study the Contemporary (in preparation for Cambridge University Press)

Storylistening: Narrative Evidence and Public Reasoning, with Claire Craig (London: Routledge, 2021) 

Deconstruction, Feminism, Film (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory (London: Continuum, 2007)

- edited

AI Narratives: A History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines, co-ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

Maggie Gee: Critical Essays, co-ed. (Canterbury: Gylphi, 2015)

David Mitchell: Critical Essays, ed. (Canterbury: Gylphi, 2011)


Journal Special Issues:

‘Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power', BJHS Themes 8 (2023), ed. with Syed Mustafa Ali, Stephanie Dick, Matthew Jones, Jonnie Penn, Richard Staley. 

‘Imagining Derrida’, Special Issue of Derrida Today 10:2 (2017), ed. with John Schad. 


Articles and Chapters:

'Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power', with Syed Mustafa Ali, Stephanie Dick, Matthew Jones, Jonnie Penn, Richard Staley. BJHS Themes 8 (2023): 1-18.

‘“Storylistening” in the science policy ecosystem’, with Claire Craig, Science 379.6628 (2023): 134-6. 

'Storylistening: How narrative evidence can improve public reasoning about climate change', with Claire Craig, WIREs Climate Change 14.2 (2023): 1-9 (first published online 2 Nov 2022).

'Public Criticism', Textual Practice (2022), ahead-of-print, 1-22. 

Storylistening: a case study in how to include the humanities in evidence provided for public reasoning’, with Claire Craig, Journal of the British Academy 20 (2022).

'What AI Researchers Read: The Role of Literature in Artificial Intelligence Research', with Jennifer Schaffer-Goddard, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 48.1 (2023): 15-42 [published online 13 June 2022].

'Feminist Fiction and Forms of Empowerment', in Empowering Contemporary Fiction in English: The Impact of Empowerment in Literary Studies, ed. Ralf Hertel and Eva-Maria Windberger (Leiden: Brill, 2021), pp. 19-38.

Futures of Autonomous Flight: Using a Collaborative Storytelling Game to Assess Anticipatory Assumptions’, with Olivia Belton, Futures 128 (2021): 1-13.

'The Eliza Effect and its Dangers: From Demystification to Gender Critique’, Journal for Cultural Research 24.1 (2020).

‘Who Rules the World?: Reimagining the Contemporary Feminist Dystopia’, in New Feminist Literary Studies, ed. Jennifer Cooke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), pp. 169-181.

‘Artificial Intelligence and the Sovereign-Governance Game’, with Michael Dillon, in AI Narratives: A History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines, ed. Stephen Cave, Kanta Dihal and Sarah Dillon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 331-54.

'Introduction: Imagining AI', with Cave and Dihal, in AI Narratives: A History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines, ed. Stephen Cave, Kanta Dihal and Sarah Dillon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 1-21.

'The Horror of the Anthropocene’, C21 Literature: Journal of 21st Century Writings 6.1 (2018), Special Issue: The Literature of the Anthropocene. Open access, available here

‘On the Influence of Literature on Science’, Configurations 26.3 (2018), Special Joint Issue with Journal of Literature and Science: State of the Unions (Part 2): 311-16. Available here.

‘David Mitchell’, in The Routledge Companion to Twenty-First Century Fiction, ed. Daniel O'Gorman and Robert Eaglestone (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 372-82.

‘English and the Public Good’, in English: Shared Futures, ed. Robert Eaglestone and Gail Marshall (Martlesham: Boydell and Brewer, 2018), pp. 194-201.

‘Derrida and the Question of “Woman”’, in Derrida and Queer Theory, ed. Christian Hite (Brooklyn: Punctum Books, 2017), pp. 108-130. Open access, available here.

‘Cinematic Incorporation: Literature in My Life Without Me’, Film Philosophy 19 (2015): 55-66. Open access, available here.

‘Literary Equivocation: Reproductive Futurism and The Ice People’, in Maggie Gee: Critical Essays, ed. Sarah Dillon and Caroline Edwards (Canterbury: Glyphi, 2015), pp. 101-132.

'Beyond the Blue: The Sorrowful Joy of Gee’, with Caroline Edwards, in Maggie Gee: Critical Essays, ed. Sarah Dillon and Caroline Edwards (Canterbury: Glyphi, 2015), pp. 1-29.

‘“Talking about the same questions but at another rhythm”: Deconstruction and Film’, in The First Sail: The Cinema of J. Hillis Miller, ed. Dragan Kujundzic (Open Humanities Press/University of Michigan Online Publications, 2015), pp. 86-101. Open access, available here.

‘It is a Question of Words, Therefore’: Becoming-Animal in Michel Faber’s Under the Skin’, Science Fiction Studies 38.1 (2011): 134-54. Open access, available here.

‘Chaotic Narrative: Complexity, Causality, Time and Autopoiesis in David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten’, Critique 52.2 (2011): 135-62. Open access version, and link to official publication, available here.

‘Introducing David Mitchell’s Universe: A Twenty-First Century House of Fiction’, in David Mitchell: Critical Essays, ed. Sarah Dillon (Canterbury: Gylphi, 2011), pp. 3-23.

‘Time for the Gift of Dance’ in Sex, Gender and Time in Literature and Culture, ed. Ben Davies and Jana Funk (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 109-131.

‘Imagining Apocalypse: Maggie Gee’s The Flood’, Contemporary Literature 48.3 (2007): 374-97.

‘Palimpsesting: Reading and Writing Lives in H.D.’s Palimpsest’, Critical Survey, Special Issue: Modernist Women Writers Using History, ed. Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewllyn, 19.1 (2007): 29-39. Open access version, and link to official publication, available here.

‘Life After Derrida: Anacoluthia and the Agrammaticality of Following’, Research in Phenomenology 36 (2006): 97-114. Open access version, and link to official publication, available here.

‘Re-inscribing De Quincey’s Palimpsest: The Significance of the Palimpsest in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Studies’, Textual Practice 19.3 (2005): 243-263.



AI and Gender: 5 Proposals for Future Research, The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, June 2019

Portrayals and Perceptions of AI and Why They Matter, The Royal Society, December 2018