Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Colonial Ambivalence, Cultural Authenticity, and the Limitations of Mimicry in French Ruled West Africa, 1914-1956

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Colonial Ambivalence, Cultural Authenticity, and the Limitations of Mimicry in French Ruled West Africa, 1914-1956

Article excerpt

Colonial Ambivalence, Cultural Authenticity, and the Limitations of Mimicry in French Ruled West Africa, 1914-1956. By James E. Geneva. Francophone Cultures and Literatures Series 45. New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2004. Pp. vii, 300. $72.95.

James Genova has written a thoughtful and nuanced account of the process and politics of decolonization in French West Africa. It focuses on the relationship between the numerically small but powerful group of French educated elite called "évolués" and their relationship to French officials between World War I and 1956. In examining the interaction between these two groups, Genova contends that the struggle for independence involved competing notions of what it meant to be French and African and that the contest for authority between both groups shaped the outcome of decolonization for metropolitan France and the new nation states of the former French colonies. Genova argues, therefore, that debates over African immigration and the loss of national identity in France as well as the "crises of institutions" affecting the former French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa are "linked phenomena" that have their roots in this moment of the recent past.

As the title suggests, the author uses postcolonial and cultural theory to interrogate the relationship between identity, power, and class. He refers to Homi Bhabha's concept of mimicry to better understand the ambivalent position of the évolués as mediators between metropolitan France and Africans in the colonies; a group who saw themselves as uniquely suited to interpret the meaning of the "authentic African" and the "true France" to both constituents. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and field offer a fresh perspective on the nature of power relations and the hierarchical structures that governed negotiation between the West African elite and colonial officials.

The book is divided into six chapters tracing the relationship between the évolués and French officials in the struggle for political autonomy. …

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