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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Maddison Sumner


Robinson College



Professor Emma Wilson

Research Topic

Contemporary French transfuges de classe, or "transclasses" 


Before starting her PhD, Maddison completed her undergraduate degree with First-Class Honours in French and Linguistics at the University of Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall), and in 2021 graduated with Distinction from her MPhil in European and Latin American Literatures and Cultures at the University of Cambridge (Wolfson College). Her master’s thesis focused on the intersection of politics and grief in 21st-century French life-writing, touching on issues of trans/intergenerational grief in Camille de Toledo's Thésée, sa vie nouvelle, as well as problems of recognition and social class in the works of Édouard Louis (Qui a tué mon père) and Anne Pauly (Avant que j'oublie). 


Maddison’s doctoral research focuses on the figure of the transfuge de classe or transclasse in contemporary French society. The term describes somebody who has changed their social class – or is in the process of changing it–, and is often used to refer to people who grew up as members of the working-class and then “climbed the social ladder”, entering the upper-middle to elite classes later on in life. This trajectory comes as the result of a number of influences, but is achieved logistically usually through the completion of studies up to and beyond a university degree. 

The object of Maddison’s research is primarily a corpus of autobiographical récits written by the subject of the social transformation, though she intends to make use of other sources as well, such as theatre – particularly, adaptations of these autobiographies – as well as film and a number of critical works which will frame her project. Notable authors and thinkers include Annie Ernaux, Didier Eribon, Édouard Louis, Chantal Jaquet, Pierre Bourdieu, Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, Nesrine Slaoui and Kaoutar Harchi, though this is by no means at all a comprehensive list and is growing as we move further into the 2020s.

Maddison intends to interrogate the role of the transclasse within French society and thought, and to analyse its continuing influences on notions of social justice, social mobility, meritocracy, universalism, and a number of other pertinent contemporary issues. In addition to this, Maddison aims to trace the development of the figure of the transfuge de classe across contemporary history, investigating the ways in which the concept itself is subject to change as more works are published which contribute to the ever-growing constellation of testimonies which meditate on a metamorphosing class identity which intersects, necessarily, with other aspects of identity such as race, sexuality, gender, and so on. 

Maddison’s project is inevitably an interdisciplinary one, which situates itself between and across the disciplines of literary study, sociology, political and philosophical theory, and lived experience. Having grown up and gone to school in Scunthorpe and its surrounding areas, the subject of this research is of both academic and personal significance to her and she welcomes anyone who would like to discuss the project, social migration, or general outreach, to contact her should they wish. 


Vice-Chancellor’s Award, Cambridge Trust, 2022-2025

Crausaz Wordsworth Scholar in the Humanities, Robinson College, 2022-2025

Jennings Prize, Wolfson College, 2020-2021

Selected Papers and Invited Talks

  • 'Overt limitation as counter-legitimation: Nesrine Slaoui's rejection of la méritocratie', Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France (ASMCF)'s Postgraduate Study Day (Online), 2024. 
  • 'Interrogating double absence in transclasse autobiography: postcolonial identity in flux in Kaoutar Harchi’s Comme nous existons', Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)'s Annual Conference in Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall), 2023. 
  • 'Cette entre-deux dans lequel je flotte': Nesrine Slaoui's Illégitimes and the Value of Being In-Between', Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France (ASMCF)'s Annual Conference in London, 2023.
  • 'L’intersection de la politique et du deuil dans l’écriture des transfuges de classe’, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)’s 54th Annual Convention in Niagara Falls, NY, 2023.
  • ‘Grief and recognition in the autobiography of contemporary transfuges de classe’, Cambridge French Graduate Research Seminar, 2022.


2024. 'Interrogating double absence in transclasse autobiography: Postcolonial identity in flux in Kaoutar Harchi’s Comme nous existons'. French Cultural Studies, OnlineFirst (issue and volume no. forthcoming).


Maddison supervises the FR12 paper (Ethics and experience: literature, thought, and visual culture of the French-speaking world (1900 to the present)) and also teaches Critical Theory classes across Parts IA, IB and II. She also welcomes inquiries about undergraduate dissertation projects relevant to her interests.

Other activities and roles

Maddison is co-convenor of the Modern French Research Seminar (MFRS) with Tobias Barnett and Professor Emma Wilson. She also co-convenes the French Graduate Research Seminar (FGRS) with Tobias Barnett and Duarte Benard da Costa. 

Maddison is also committed to widening participation in academia and has engaged with a number of access and outreach programmes throughout her time at Oxford and Cambridge. She has been a mentor on the Zero Gravity platform since its launch in 2020; the platform aims to encourage and support university applications from students at UK state schools with a lower history of sending their students to university by matching them with a volunteer with experience in their chosen degree at their chosen university. She has also taught for the Gonville and Caius Higher Aspirations Scheme, providing a six-session supervision course in French for aspiring Year 12 students in Gonville and Caius' link areas.