Colin MacCabe was educated at St Benedict’s School, Ealing in London from 1956-1966 before going to Trinity College Cambridge as an undergraduate, where he read Philosophy and English from 1967-71. He then studied for a Ph.D entitled “James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word”. In 1972-73 he attended the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. He was a Research Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge from 1974-1976 before being appointed to an Assistant lectureship in the English Faculty charged with teaching the history of Early Modern and Modern English. In 1976 he was elected a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. In 1981 he took up a Professorship of English at the University of Strathclyde where he was Head of Department and introduced graduate programmes in the study of literary linguistics.
In 1985 he was appointed Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and Head of Production at the British Film Institute in London. For thirteen years he divided his time between Pittsburgh and the BFI where he was made Head of Research and Education in 1989. As Head of Research and Education he introduced an MA in Film and Television.
In 1998 he left the BFI and established the production company Minerva Pictures with Paula Jalfon. He also took up a fractional appointment as Professor of English at Exeter University. He continued as Chair of the London Consortium which he had helped to found in 1995 with Birkbeck, University of London, Tate and the Architectural Association. The London Consortium offered both doctorates and an M.Res in Humanities and Cultural Studies. In 2001 he was appointed Director of the Pitt in London Programme and 2002 Distinguished Professor of English and Film at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2005 he stepped down as Chair of the London Consortium and Minerva Pictures ceased production.
In 2006 he took up a fractional appointment as Professor of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London and Associate Director of the London Consortium where he introduced an M.A. in Film Curating and established London Consortium Television. In 2010 he retired from Birkbeck and in 2012 the London Consortium was dissolved.
In 2012 he began to expand the Pitt in London Programme into British universities. He also with Bartek Dziadosz, Lily Ford and Sarah Joshi establshed the Derek Jarman Lab devoted to research led film making. The Lab is housed in Birkbeck, University of London and is supported both by Birkbeck and the University of Pittsburgh.
In 2014 he was appointed a visiting Professor of English at University College London.
He has held visiting positions at Griffith University (1981 and 1984), Shanghai Foreign Language Institute (1984), English Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad (2011) and All Souls College, Oxford (2014).
He was an editor of Screen magazine from 1973-1978 and he has edited Critical Quarterly since 1987.
He is a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary and a member of Academia Europaea.