Between Utopia and Dystopia: The Afterlives of Empire
Annual Conference of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies
19-20 November 2010
Institut Français, London
2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the independence of 17 African countries, most of them former colonies of the French Empire. A number of conferences already announced for this year in the UK and elsewhere will attempt to provide a critical overview of this wave of independences, working from a range of perspectives across the social sciences. This conference will adopt a complementary approach, focusing its analysis on the utopian and dystopian representations (literary, political, historical, cultural) to which the process of decolonisation gave rise. We thus invite proposals for papers that seek to explore the complex relationship between utopian and dystopian images of decolonisation in the former French and Belgian colonies.
It is now a critical commonplace that the expectation in the run up to, and euphoria in the immediate aftermath of, independence gave way to a sense of profound disillusionment by the late 1960s. For example, if the 1966 Festival mondial des arts nègres in Dakar posited independence as nothing less than the cultural, social and political renaissance of the entire continent, then Ahmadou Kourouma’s novel Les Soleils des indépendances, first published in 1968, imagined post-colonial Africa as a nightmarish world of poverty, despair and the oppressive one-party state. However, the neat chronology of 1968 as the turning point separating utopian and dystopian visions of independence does not withstand sustained scrutiny: e.g. already in 1961, Fanon’s Damnés de la terre was warning of the danger of independence being derailed by a corrupt elite; that same year, Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected leader of the Congo, was executed by the Belgian security forces with the collusion of the CIA; in 1962, René Dumont gave his stark warning that L’Afrique noire est mal partie; and throughout the 1960s, the writer/filmmaker Ousmane Sembene denounced a transfer of power that was singularly failing to transform the lives of the African masses.
Although the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2010 relate to sub-Saharan Africa, we would also welcome proposals for papers dealing with other contexts such as North Africa and Indo-china, and equally the post-departmentalised DOM-ROMs, whose afterlives of empire are particularly complex. Also, we would be keen to receive proposals from scholars working on France’s ancien régime empire: how was the loss of Canada, and India imagined? What dreams for the future sustained the French-speaking populations or was their imaginary marked solely by a postcolonial melancholy? How and when did Haitian dreams of a black Republic give way to often dystopian images of a seemingly endless spiral of oppression and exploitation? As global inequalities seem to become ever more entrenched, is it still possible or desirable to create utopian representations of independence?
We welcome proposals for papers from scholars working across a range of fields (including literature, history, politics, cultural studies). We also welcome comparative approaches analysing French contexts alongside British, Portuguese, etc, as well as the comparison of coloniser-colonised visions of decolonisation (e.g. pied noir vs Algerian nationalist). Potential topics for papers include:
· les romans de la désillusion
· republicanism and colonial utopia
· The Cold War
· modern(ist) utopias/dystopias
· dreams of a return to past glories/tradition as oppression
· postcolonial melancholy
· tragedies of decolonization
· ideologies of the postcolony
· mourning the lost homeland
Please send abstracts of 250-300 words, plus 50-100 words of bio-bibliography, to SFPS Conference Secretary, Georgina Collins (email@example.com). Papers can be in either French or English.
The deadline for receipt of abstracts is Wednesday, 30 June 2010.
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