Lili Owen Rowlands

Lili Owen Rowlands


  • TW20 0EX

Personal profile

Personal profile

I am a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow and scholar of feminist theory, sexuality studies, and French studies. I am particularly interested in questions of desire, intimacy, sex work and gender, and how these are mediated through French, first-person literary and filmic forms.

As a critic, I regularly review contemporary French culture for public-facing publications like the London Review of Books and the New Yorker.

I am also co-founder and convenor of Royal Holloway's Forum for Contemporary Theory.

Research interests

My current research project, entitled Corps-à-corps: Erotic Labour in the Contemporary Francosphere, is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and focuses on contemporary accounts of sex work in France. Reaching across the full scope of erotic labour – from web-camming to ‘full service’ work – I trace how sex work is portrayed and problematised in autobiographical French-language literature, film-making and digital media (such as blogs and vlogs).

This book-project is set against a series of evolutions affecting sex work in France: the legislative shift in 2016 that shifted criminalisation from seller to buyer; the gentrification of France's major cities; and the resurgence of sex-work activism. Where attempts to decriminalise and destigmatise sex work have rightly tended to emphasise the similarities between sex work and other forms of service work (like waiting or bartending), my project instead addresses the embodied and specifically sexual aspects of erotic labour. Incorporating insights from sex-work theory, psychoanalysis and the sociology of work, I consider how the eroticisation of touch, voice and the body is both relayed through and problematised by cultural objects that tend to sit 'below' the purview of academic inquiry.

I am also preparing my doctoral thesis for publication. Different Subjects: Self-writing, Autotheorizing and Sexual Dissidence in 21st-century France addresses the intersection of life-writing and queer theory in France since the early 2000s through a focus on the writings of Anne F. Garréta, Guillaume Dustan, Paul B. Preciado, Virginie Despentes and Didier Eribon. Tracking the belated reception of Anglo-American queer thought in France, I argue that recent French theorising about sexual dissidence is frequently figured as an atomised and autobiographical endeavour, wherein self, body and desire become sites to contest the abstract valence of theory, the exigencies of Republican universalism, and the anti-gender atmosphere of post-millennial France.

Thirdly, I am especially interested in trans studies, transfeminism and the insights both bring to feminist critique. I recently co-edited a special journal issue of Paragraph on the trans theorist Paul B. Preciado.


I currently teach undergraduate and postgraduate modules across French, Comparative Literatures and Cultures, and Liberal Arts degree programmes in areas including French and Francophone literatures, introduction to film studies, and feminist and gender theory.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth

Education/Academic qualification

French, PhD, University of Cambridge

Award Date: 22 Apr 2022