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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: French Studies

The Francophone Imaginary: Legacies of Colonialism in Literature and Culture

Academic Year 2019-20

France, much like other nations in Western Europe, enjoyed the benefits of an expansive colonial empire at the great cost of the people subjected to its domination until well into the twentieth century. Imperial authority has historically been determined by knowledge and power. But in a supposedly decolonised, postcolonial world, what forms of political, social or cultural authority persist? In what ways is francophone culture marked by the history of colonialism? How do francophone authors and filmmakers mobilise creative forms – some of which are inheritances from the culture of colonial France – to uncover and to challenge the power structures edified by the colonial past? This module explores the enduring legacies of colonialism by engaging with a range of 20th and 21st century francophone literary and cultural works. Moving across different parts of the French-speaking world, we shall trace the political imprint of colonialism and interrogate the cultural media through which philosophers, writers and filmmakers have sought to articulate historical violence, to establish a postcolonial politics, to imagine new forms of voice, identity and place, and to reflect upon the ways that colonial realities and unequal power relations continue to haunt and to shape our contemporary world. We shall look at a selection of literary and filmic works from diverse geo-political locations, which may include North and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and North America. Our understanding of these works will be enhanced by the study of creative models on which the works draw, anticolonial writings from around the time of decolonisation, and more recent theories of postcoloniality, migration, globalisation and the transcultural. We will explore the notion of ‘the francophone’ critically, asking not only what it means, but also how it has been called into question. By examining the complex, embedded legacies of colonialism, we will gain a greater understanding of the francophone imaginary as a cultural space in which multiple identities converge and are sometimes required to compete in order to be heard.

Indicative works:

  • Ousmane Sembène, Xala (1974)
  • Fatou Diome, Le Ventre de l’Atlantique (2003)
  • Gillo Pontecorvo, La Bataille d'Alger (1966)
  • Boualem Sansal, 2084 (2015)
  • Jean de La Fontaine, Fables (1668) (Book I); Patrick Chamoiseau, Le Papillon et la lumière (2013)
  • Ananda Devi, Moi, L'Interdite (2000)
  • Colette Fellous, Aujourd’hui (2005)


Dr Amaleena Damlé [], Room ER281, Elvet Riverside II

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment

Image: Michel Haddad, Au temps qui d'aventure réduit la différence