1 February 2018

Martina Kopf:
Concepts of Development in Postcolonial Kenyan Writing

18:00 c. t. - IG 4.201

In his seminal work on the colonial origins of developmentalism in Africa in the first half of the 20th century, Frederick Cooper proposes that at its very roots there is a problem of knowledge. Colonial officials approached social phenomena with a specific gaze, one that thought that European solutions are applicable anywhere in the world. This problem of knowledge did not disappear with the end of colonial rule. Rather, it went into the post-colonial governance of processes of social and economic change in Africa and was re-inforced through international institutions and organisations in development politics and planning. This ‘not-knowing-enough’ or ‘not-knowing-the-right-things’ runs through the history and critique of development research and planning.

The habilitation project presented in this talk engages with the issue of knowledge in discourses and politics of development, by looking at them through the lens of Kenyan writing. I am interested in how writers from a country that has been a watershed for the international development industry for the wider region of East Africa have witnessed, experienced and shaped what the Latin American anthropologist Arturo Escobar (1991; 1995) has termed the ‘development encounter’ in his deconstruction and critique of Western-dominated epistemologies and practices in global development politics. My purpose is to understand a part of global history and of the history of globalisation through the stories told in fiction and life writing. The fundamental questions which inform this investigation of versions and subversions of development discourse in fiction are: How do we know about social and economic change? Who defines what change is, what change means, and for whom?

Martina Kopf is lecturer in African Literature Studies at the University of Vienna. She is the author of Trauma und Literatur: Das Nicht-Erzählbare erzählen – Assia Djebar und Yvonne Vera.

8 February 2018

Alex Tickell:
Can the Slum-dweller Speak? Katherine Boo and the Postcolonial Politics of Literary Journalism

18:00 c. t. - IG 4.201

My paper examines the rise of forms of narrative reportage and creative non-fiction in representations of the city and urban subaltern communities in India. Drawing on my recent research on citizenship, infrastructure and writings on the city, I will discuss the postcolonial ethics and politics of literary journalism with special reference to Katherine Boo’s celebrated account of Mumbai’s Annawadi settlement, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum (2012). My aim is to theorise Boo’s use of first-person narrative voices in this text, and contrast this fictionalising technique with Aman Sethi’s ‘involved’ narrative reportage in his work of the same year: A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi (2012).

Alex Tickell is Senior Lecturer in English at The Open University, UK. He holds a PhD from the University of Leeds and taught at the University of York and University of Portsmouth. He is a literary historian with a special interest in South-Asian and South-East Asian literary cultures, contemporary fiction and conjunctions of writing and politics and the author of Terrorism, Insurgency and Indian-English Literature, 1830-1947 (2012) and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (2007) as well as the editor of the forthcoming 10th volume ofThe Oxford History of the Novel in English: The Novel in South and South-East Asia since 1945.