Orly Lael Netzer


Degrees:Ph.D (Alberta)


My research focuses on the public work of testimony in contemporary Canada. As a scholar of autobiography, memory, and cultural studies, I explore how audiences are invited to bear witness to difficult knowledge and histories of injury and harm through literary, visual and performance art.

I turn to testimony because it outlines the relational and ethical stakes of this moment, shaping the dynamics between communities’ protest and societal response. My research aims to better understand what it means to bear witness to testimony, and how relations between communities in the nation-state are shaped through the ways we listen and respond to each other’s stories of protest. Interlacing diasporic, transnational, Indigenous, and intersectional feminist approaches, these questions guide my research on the politics of recognition, reconciliation, and redress in Canada, thinking through its colonial roots, neo-colonial risks, and de-colonial futurities.

My current work turns to the intersection of life stories and mediation studies, examining the ethical tensions between emerging technologies and testimonial culture, asking how the use of new media and technology is pushing testimonial discourse to new frontiers and raising new questions on cultural memory and the ethics of bearing witness.


My courses often focus on the ways that textual and visual culture shape/ challenge/ imagine national identity, the public role of collective memory and counter-memory in cultural institutions, and the uses of life stories as vehicles for socio-political change. With over a decade of university teaching experience, I approach my courses as active sites of learning, exploring Canadian Studies as a distinctly political site of inquiry that is formulated through its settler-colonial, diasporic, Indigenous, and transnational histories and trajectories. In so doing, my pedagogy uses critical humanities approaches to explore how cultural production is strategically mobilized to shape our ways of being with others, within and beyond the nation. Prior to joining the School I was an Assistant Lecturer at the University of Alberta (2017-2022) where I also served on the executive committee of the Canadian Literature Centre (2015-2017).


Selected Publications

Edited books

In Search of Right Relations: Ethics and Life Narratives. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. [under review].

Trans Narratives: trans, transmedia, transnational. Co-edited with Anna Horvat, Sarah McRae, and Julie Rak. Routledge, 2021. (ISBN 9781032058436)

Peer reviewed journal articles

“On Teaching Life Writing in an Age of Social Change.” Co-authored with Amanda Spallacci. “Teaching Life Writing: Theory, Methodology, and Practice” special issue of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 37.3, 2022. doi: 10.1080/08989575.2022.2154437

“Material Weapons: Paratext, Ethics, and Testimony in Carmen Aguirre’s Something Fierce.” “Testimonial Encounters in the Americas” special issue of AmLit – American Literatures edited by Molly Appel and Leila Pazargadi, 1.1 (Oct. 2021): 64-85. doi: 10.25364/27.1:2021.1.5 [open access]

“A VR Empathy Machine: Canada Reads 2019, Testimonial Transactions, and the Cunning of Affective Recognition.” Canadian Literature, 242 (2020): 58-78. https://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/canlit/article/view/192411

“Collaboration” co-authored with Maria Faini and Emma Maguire, in “What’s Next? The Futures of Life Writing” special issue of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies. 32.2 (2017): 247-250. doi: 10.1080/08989575.2017.1289017.

“From Qallunaat to James Bay: An Interview with Mini Aodla Freeman, Keavy Martin, Julie Rak, and Norma Dunning” co-authored with Rebecca Fredrickson, Brandon Kerfoot and Katherine Meloche. Canadian Literature 226 (Autumn 2015): 112-123. doi: https://doi.org/10.14288/cl.v0i226.187571

Edited special issues

“Teaching Life Writing: Theory, Methodology, and Practice” a special issue of a/b: auto/biography studies 37.3 (2022). co-edited with Amanda Spallacci.

“Auto/biography in Transit” special issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly co-edited with Jason Breiter, Lucinda Rasmussen, and Julie Rak, 38.1 (Winter 2015).