Past Imperfect

BookPast Imperfect

Past Imperfect

Time and African Decolonization, 1945-1960

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 74


April 15th, 2021

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This book proposes to examine French and Francophone intellectual history in the period leading to the decolonization of sub-Saharan Africa (1945-1960). The analysis favours the epistemological links between ethnology, museology, sociology, and (art) history. In this discussion, a specific focus is placed on temporality and the role ascribed by these different disciplines to African pasts, presents, and futures. It is argued here that the post-war context, characterized, inter alia, by the creation of UNESCO, the birth of Présence Africaine and the prevalence of existentialism, bore witness to the development of new regimes of historicity and to the partial refutation of a progress-based modernity. This investigation is predicated on case studies from West and Central Africa (AOF, AEF and Belgian Congo) and, whilst adopting a postcolonial methodology, it explores African and French authors such as Georges Balandier, Cheikh Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, Chris Marker, Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Alain Resnais, Jean-Paul Sartre and Placide Tempels. This study explores the intellectual legacy of the ‘long nineteenth century’ and the difficulty encountered by these authors to articulate their anti-colonial agenda away from the modern methodologies of the ‘colonial library’. By focussing on issues of intellectual alienation, this book also demonstrates that the post-WW2 period foreshadowed twenty-first century debates on extroversion, racial inequalities, the decolonization of history, and cultural (mis)appropriation.

"This is a thoroughgoing and scholarly study of African culture, anthropology and history during the lead-up to decolonization, using the notion of temporality as a lens through which to assess this complex transitional period. It is a high quality piece of research, offering a wealth of new insight on a complex question."
Jane Hiddleston, University of Oxford

Author Information

Pierre-Philippe Fraiture is a Professor of French in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick.