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Raja Ben Hammed (she/her)

PhD Candidate in French and Francophone Studies

Raja Ben Hammed (she/her)

Chance has been considered an opposite to necessity. In my research, I show that chance can be as determining as necessity.”

Raja Ben Hammed is a PhD candidate in French and Francophone Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She received her BA from the University of Tunis and her master’s degree in Linguistics and Language Policy from Manouba University. Raja is interested in exploring the relations between the francophone postcolonial tradition and Arabic literary production in North African literature. She also is pursuing comparative work on Maghrebian and African francophone literatures to study the ways in which postcolonial literature and local histories counter global narratives and historical production.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My research examines the thematics of chance and necessity in French and francophone literature. I focus on the ways in which unpredictable or contingent events are mobilized in these texts in order to enact a dialectical relationship between chance and necessity. Chance has been considered an opposite to necessity. In my research, I show that chance can be as determining as necessity. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
I have been working for years on the more problematic aspects of the Maghreb region, and I noticed that colonial and postcolonial histories are written through the lenses of historical determinism. Chance has no role to play in such determinist systems. To fill this gap, I focus on the workings of chance and contingency in colonial and postcolonial narratives. It is an attempt to rethink a world that is unbridled from orderly determinist episteme and open to infinite possibilities created by the unpredictable.

How do you unwind after a long day?
Playing and drawing with my son is my way to unwind after a long day. I draw and he colors my drawings.

What books are on your bedside table?
I am reading Reine Pokou by Véronique Tadjo, and Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze. I am reading these books together because Deleuze’s book is a theoretical study of the concept of repetition, and Tadjo’s novel is a literary interpretation of repetition. Also, I cannot do without Arabic poetry of the likes of al-Mutanabbi. It is my favorite lullaby.

What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
When I was young, I wanted to become a teacher. Then growing up, I found tailoring fascinating. Actually, tailoring and teaching are not that different. Both need passion, time, and the ability to link threads and create a picture anew. By the way, the etymology of text comes from the Latin ‘texere’ which means to weave with threads.

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
Recently, I received the Panofsky Award to conduct research in the archives of Egypt. The investigation of the archives has been extremely valuable in furthering my understanding of the historical and literary conjunctures leading to the construction of the modern subject and nations in the Maghreb. Probing within the Egyptian archival resources helped me analyze more closely the historical discourses on colonial and postcolonial periods while also strengthening the historical side of my research.

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