Anca Parvulescu

Anca Parvulescu

​Professor of English and the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities
Acting Director of Comparative Literature
PhD, University of Minnesota
research interests:
  • Modernism
  • Literary and critical theory
  • Women and gender studies
  • American

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1122
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Anca Parvulescu's research and teaching interests include twentieth-century literature, modernity and modernism, literary and critical theory, narrative and the novel, and gender and feminist studies.

Anca Parvulescu's research and teaching interests include twentieth-century literature, modernity and modernism, literary and critical theory, narrative and the novel, and gender and feminist studies. 

Her 2010 book, Laughter: Notes on a Passion (MIT Press) tells the story of a modern prohibition on laughter. The book shows how literary and philosophical texts, in dialogue with conduct books and visual culture, produce a normative aesthetics of the smiling face as an alternative to the contorted face in laughter. The book is an attempt to extricate laughter from theories of the comic, humor, jokes, the grotesque etc, and redirect our attention to the burst of laughter itself. What kind of subjects are we when we laugh? 

Her second book, The Traffic in Women's Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2014) is an intervention in the heated debate on the making and unmaking of Europe in the wake of 1989. 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.

Comparatizing Transylvania: Inter-imperiality, Rurality and the Global Modernist Market is co-auhored with Manuela Boatca. The project is 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 vintage point of a small village in Transylvania? The aim of the project is to place this multi-ethnic and multilingual region in a comparative framework that yields a fresh perspective on comparatism.  

Anca Parvulescu’s articles are published in journals like PMLANew Literary HistoryCritical Inquiry, and Camera Obscura

Her teaching is split between the English Department and The Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities. She offers a range of interdisciplinary courses that bring literary, visual and theoretical texts into critical dialogue. 

Anca Parvulescu currently serves as Director of Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature.

Recent Publications

(Dis)Counting Languages: Between Hugo Meltzl and Liviu Rebreanu," Journal of World Literature (2019) . 

Affect” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of 21st-Century Thought, edited by Robin Truth Goodman (2019).   


  • L93 205C: Literary Modernities: Text and Tradition
  • L14 311: Topics in English & American Literature: International Modernism
  • L14 3552: Introduction to Literary Theory
  • L14 E Lit 470: Research Lab: Affect in Feminist Theory
  • L14 523: Theories of Globalization
  • L14 E Lit 524: Seminar: International Modernism/World Literature
The Traffic in Women's Work

The Traffic in Women's Work

"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.”


Parvulescu revisits Claude Lévi-Strauss’s concept of kinship and its rearticulation by second-wave feminists, particularly Gayle Rubin, to show that kinship has traditionally been anchored in the traffic in women. Reading recent cinematic texts that help frame this, she reveals that in contemporary Europe, East European migrant women are exchanged to engage in labor customarily performed by wives within the institution of marriage. Tracing a pattern of what she calls Americanization, Parvulescu argues that these women thereby become responsible for the labor of reproduction. A fascinating cultural study as much about the consequences of the enlargement of the European Union as women’s mobility, The Traffic in Women’s Work questions the foundations of the notion of Europe today.