Anca Parvulescu

Anca Parvulescu

​Professor of English
Pronouns: she/her/hers
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 international modernism, affect theory, literary and critical theory, comparative literature, and visual culture. 

Professor Parvulescu is the author of Laughter: Notes on a Passion (MIT, 2010), The Traffic in Women’s Work: East European Migration and the Making of Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2014), and Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires (forthcoming, Cornell University Press). 

Professor Parvulescu is currently at work on her fourth book, Modernist Faces: Physiognomy and Facial Form. Prompted by recent debates about facial recognition technology and masking during the COVID pandemic, the book traces a cultural history of the face. 

Laughter: Notes on a Passion (MIT Press, 2010) shows how literary and philosophical texts, in dialogue with conduct books and visual culture, produce a modern 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? 

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.

Co-auhored with Manuela Boatca, Creolizing the Modern: Transylvania across Empires (forthcoming, Cornell University Press) 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 comparatism.  

Professor Parvulescu’s articles have been published in PMLA, New Literary History, Critical Inquiry, Literature Compass, Interventions, Camera Obscura. 

Most recently, she has been at work on a cluster of articles on the history of 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.” 

One of Professor Parvulescu’s recent courses is “The First Modern Novel,” a survey of novels considered “the first modern novel” around the world: Mohammed Hussein Haikal’s Zainab in Egypt, Futabatei Shimei’s Ukigumo in Japan, Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali in India, Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman in China, and Liviu Rebreanu’s Ion in Romania.

Recent Publications

Istanbul, Capital of Comparative Literature.” MLN 135, no. 5 (2020): 1232–57.

The World of World Literature and World-Systems Analysis.” symploke 28. no 1-2 (2020): 375-383.

(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.