About

Popular print and reading cultures in francophone Africa is a project funded by the AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund. It is led by Dr Ruth Bush (University of Bristol, UK) and Dr Claire Ducournau  (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3). The project aims develop professional capacity and promote engagement with historic print initiatives in Senegal through a pilot digitisation project, exhibitions (one in Dakar, the other in Bristol), and academic conferences. For details of the original funding call, click here.

From Onitsha market literature in Nigeria to recent online and print channels such as Chimurenga (South Africa) and Kwani? (Kenya), popular print cultures in Africa have been studied in primarily anglophone regions of the continent. This research has highlighted the social worlds of everyday literacies, the emergence of new genres, and the kinds of textual and visual authority wielded by ‘popular’ print. Recent research on print culture in francophone regions of the continent has focused on inequalities in the global literary marketplace and the production of a francophone literary canon. This project turns to post-1950 popular magazines and investigate their significance for current and future ideas about reading in the Global South. How do these writing and reading practices relate to the epistemic paradigm of development? Do they resist that paradigm at any point? How might more nuanced understanding of reading cultures redress perceived inequalities in post-colonial knowledge production (and the infrastructure required for this knowledge production)? 

The core focus is on three magazines distributed across francophone Africa and its diaspora: Bingo, La Vie Africaine, and Awa: la revue de la femme noire. These magazines have been overlooked due to difficulty of access, leading to potentially narrow understandings of reading cultures in twentieth and twenty-first-century francophone Africa. They acted as vehicles for cultural translation across regions, between urban and rural milieux, as well as transnationally. They evoked a sense of individual and collective identity, notions of work and leisure, ideas of literature (the founding editors were mostly published writers), political solidarity (especially in the Cold War context), and acted as tools for generating future aspirations. The emergence of women writers and readers through these magazines is particular significant, pointing to active networks of cultural producers that pre-date the canonical ‘first generation’ of African women writers. In their digitised form, these magazines will provide a rich archive of material for cultural critics, historians, political scientists, and social anthropologists working on this region.

Through collaboration between partners in the UK, France and Senegal, the project seeks to encourage public and scholarly appreciation of less-canonical elements of francophone African print culture and local print innovation post-1950. This work engages with research priorities in Modern Languages and the Arts and Humanities, namely the interpretation and preservation of cultural production in the Global South; the materiality of post-independence local and national narratives; and changing ideas of the public sphere in an era of transnational and digital mobility.