Professor Joanna Gavins


Dr Jo GavinsRoom 5.06, Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

Internal extension: 20214
Tel: +44 (0)114-222-0214
Fax: +44 (0)114-222-8481

email :


I came to the University of Sheffield in 2001 to join the literary-linguistics team in the School of English. I am Professor in English Language and Literature and my central research interests are in the relationships between language, literature, and cognition.


I work within the discipline of cognitive poetics, an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to literary study that draws on research from the cognitive sciences to understand the human experience of literary reading. More specifically, I have been involved for the last ten years or so in the development of Text World Theory, a cognitive-linguistic model of human discourse processing, and its application to literary discourse in particular. I am the Director of the Text World Theory Special Collection, housed in the University's Western Bank library, and my monograph on text-worlds, Text World Theory: An Introduction, was published in 2007. For more information about the text-world approach to discourse, please visit the Text World Theory website.

My development of the Text World Theory framework has been facilitated to a great extent through the exploration of challenging experimental literature. Much of my early research focused on the cognitive poetics of Absurdist prose fiction and poetry, culminating in my book, Reading the Absurd (Edinburgh University Press, 2013). My more recent work has centred chiefly around readers’ cognitive experiences of contemporary poetry and I am currently completing a monograph entitled Poetry in the Mind, for publication in 2016.

With my colleague Simon Armitage, I organised the Lyric festival between 2011 and 2014, bringing some of the UK’s most renowned and respected writers, broadcasters and performers to the University, as well as showcasing the talent of Faculty students and staff. Our Lyric festival line-ups included events with Kate Tempest, Tony Harrison, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Carol Ann Duffy, Stuart Maconie and Benjamin Zephaniah. Lyric continues to run community-based activities, such as workshops for talented young writers, each year.

In 2014, I was the Project Manager for the catalytic poetry project, which saw the unveiling of the world’s first catalytic poem on the wall of the Alfred Denny building on Western Bank. ‘In Praise of Air’ is an original work by Simon Armitage and the result of a collaboration with Pro-Vice Chancellor for Science, Professor Tony Ryan. The giant banner on which the poem is printed was manufactured using revolutionary nano-technology. It is coated with a photocatalyst which eats pollution, enabling the poem to clean the air around it as it sits in place, overlooking the busy A57. For more information, please visit the Catalytic Poetry website.

I am a member of the Poetics and Linguistics Association and served as Assistant Editor of the association’s journal, Language and Literature, from 2009 to 2014. I am also Editor of the John Benjamins book series Linguistic Approaches to Literature.


My main undergraduate teaching responsibilities are on the BA in English Language and Literature degree. I teach literary-linguistics at undergraduate level and offer a module in my own area of specialism, cognitive poetics. I also teach undergraduate and postgraduate modules in cognitive linguistics, cognitive poetics, and contemporary poetry.

Within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities more broadly, I am the Faculty Lead for Postgraduate Affairs and I oversee the management of postgraduate matters in the Faculty in this capacity.


I welcome research applications in all areas of literary-linguistics and cognitive poetics, particularly Text World Theory. I am also interested in work on contemporary experimental literature and contemporary poetry.



  • Gavins, J. and Lahey, E. (eds) (forthcoming, 2015) World-Building: Discourse in the Mind, London: Bloomsbury.
  • Armitage, S., Gavins, J., Sansom, A. and Sansom, P. (eds) (2014) CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets, Sheffield: Smith Doorstop.
  • Gavins, J. (2013) Reading the Absurd, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Gavins, J. (2007) Text World Theory: An Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Gavins, J. and Steen, G. (eds) (2003) Cognitive Poetics in Practice, London: Routledge.  [Japanese translation by Shigeko Uchida published by Tuttle Mori in 2008; Korean translation to be published by Hankookmunhwasa Publishing Co. in 2015]
Cast: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets Reading the Absurd Text World Theory Cognitive Poetics in Practice

Articles and Chapters

  • Gavins, J. (forthcoming, 2016) ‘Situated imagination: experiencing literary worlds in context’, in S. Csabi (ed.) Expressive Minds and Artistic Creations: Studies in Cognitive Poetics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gavins, J. and Simpson, P. (2015) ‘Regina v John Terry: the discursive construction of an alleged racist event’, Discourse and Society, 27(1).
  • Gavins, J. (2015) ‘Text World Theory’, in V. Sotirova (ed.) The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics, London: Bloomsbury, pp.444-57.
  • Gavins, J. (2014) ‘Metaphor studies in retrospect and prospect: an interview with Gerard Steen’, Review of Cognitive Linguistics, 12 (2).
  • Gavins, J. (2014) ‘Defamiliarisation’, in P. Stockwell and S. Whiteley (eds) The Cambridge Handbook of Stylistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.196-211.
  • Gavins, J. (2012) ‘Leda and the stylisticians’, Language and Literature, 21(4): 345-62.
  • Gavins, J. (2012) ‘The literary absurd’, in J. Bray, A. Gibbons and B. McHale (eds) The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, London: Routledge, pp.62-74.
  • Gavins, J. and Stockwell, P. (2012) ‘About the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often’, Language and Literature, 21(1): 33-50.
  • Gavins, J. (2010) ‘‘Appeased by the certitude’: the quiet disintegration of the paranoid mind in The Mustache’, in D. McIntyre and B. Busse (eds) Language and Style, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, pp.402-18.
  • Gavins, J. (2007) ‘‘And everyone and I stopped breathing’: familiarity and ambiguity in the text-world of ‘The day lady died’’, in M. Lambrou and P. Stockwell (eds) Contemporary Stylistics, London: Continuum, pp.133-43.
  • Gavins, J. and Hodson, J. (2006) ‘When the students become the teachers: practical pedagogical stylistics with third year undergraduates’, in G. Watson and S. Zyngier (eds) Literature and Stylistics for Language Learners: Theory and Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp.27-36.
  • Gavins, J. (2005) ‘Text World Theory in literary practice’, in B. Petterson, M. Polvinen and H. Veivo (eds) Cognition in Literary Interpretation and Practice, Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, pp.89-104.
  • Gavins, J. (2005) ‘(Re)thinking modality: a text-world perspective’, Journal of Literary Semantics, 34 (2): 79-93.
  • Gavins, J. (2003) ‘Too much blague? An exploration of the text worlds of Donald Barthelme’s Snow White’, in J. Gavins and G. Steen (eds) Cognitive Poetics in Practice, London: Routledge, pp.129-44. [Reprinted in 2008 in R. Carter and P. Stockwell (eds) The Language and Literature Reader, London: Routledge, pp.255-67.]
  • Steen, G. and Gavins, J. (2003) ‘Contextualising cognitive poetics’, in J. Gavins and G. Steen (eds) Cognitive Poetics in Practice, London: Routledge, pp.1-12.
  • Gavins, J. (2000) ‘Absurd tricks with bicycle frames in the text world of The Third Policeman’, Nottingham Linguistic Circular, 15: 17-33.