Postcolonial resilience? Débrouillardise in African texts
This project seeks to establish a comparative study of fictional representations of ‘resilience’ in sub-Saharan African literature (1980s-present). I will trace expressions of débrouillardise (a kind of streetwise resourcefulness) in francophone fiction, in order to articulate a particular way of responding to crisis and adversity which challenges stilted frames of victimhood. To move towards a world-beyond-race, as Achille Mbembe advocates (2013), new focal points are required for articulating Black experience. In order to mitigate against stereotypical perceptions of African subjects as pervasively vulnerable (Jansen, 2009), we must use literature to establish better frameworks for understanding, especially in living through/after extreme events (Shapiro, 2015). Beyond descriptions of illness and trauma, what defines how daily life is negotiated by subjects who face disease or adversity? Which cultural factors underpin their experience of disaster and overcoming it? Despite being challenged by adversity, how are responses to ongoing instability and specific crises (Ebola, genocide, civil war) articulated in culturally specific ways? How do authors express strength, adaptation and ‘resilience’ in a range of texts and styles? My project will answer these questions via an interrogation of prevailing discourses of ‘resilience’.
My primary research focus is on sub-Saharan francophone texts which contest the framing of African subjects in vulnerability and victimhood. But my aim with this research is to move beyond pervasive discourses of ‘resilience’ which remain skewed towards Eurocentric and neoliberal ideas of strength, and instead to demonstrate the interdependency, creativity, and mobility which are at the core of resourcefulness. I will question the usefulness of ‘resilience’ in its gendered, political and cultural underpinnings, and trace its appearance in non-literary discourse in the contexts concerned. With this project I seek to develop understanding of responses to crisis through a study of their literary representation.