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Cosmopolitanism Revisited: Afro-European Mobilities in Contemporary African Diasporic Literatures

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AFROEUROPOLITANS (Cosmopolitanism Revisited: Afro-European Mobilities in Contemporary African Diasporic Literatures)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2019-03-31

The aim is to explore how contemporary Franco- and Anglophone African diasporic literatures revise the concept of cosmopolitanism through their representations of different forms of mobility in the Afroeuropean context. Cosmopolitanism is commonly understood as a stance of “being at home in the world”, referring to a position which is defined by a capacity to transgress cultural and national borders with ease and to claim belonging to a world beyond one’s immediate milieu. The project outlines three categories of cosmopolitanism (Business Class Cosmopolitanism; Débrouillardise Cosmopolitanism; Failing Cosmopolitanism) in order to draw attention to the privileged, practical, and critical aspects of the concept. Each category is exemplified by literary texts whose events are framed by different forms of mobility between Africa and Europe.

Studying fictional African cosmopolitanisms is important for the society because it enhances our understanding of Europe in a changing global context and underlines the role of mobility in its contemporary postcolonial present. By exploring the potentials and limits of the concept of cosmopolitanism in the Afroeuropean context, the project underlines the past and present intertwinements of Europe and Africa and draws attention to the experiences of exclusion that African travellers from different socio-cultural backgrounds face in Europe.

The overall objective of the project is to analyse how African diasporic literatures, situated in diverse contexts of Afroeuropean mobility, revisit the notion of cosmopolitanism. How do fictional characters assume a mobile cosmopolitan position? What are the potentials and the limits of African cosmopolitanisms in the Afroeuropean context? Can African mobile subjects claim that they are “at home” in Europe?
The scientific work consisted of producing literary analysis of contemporary Franco- and Anglophone African diasporic fiction. The results indicate that the concept of cosmopolitanism can be successfully applied to diasporic African literatures. However, the meanings and manifestations of cosmopolitanism vary a lot according to the socio-cultural status of the traveller figure.

Privileged “business class cosmopolitanisms” are shaped by a relative ease so as to transgressing cultural, national, and linguistic boundaries. Yet, African elite travellers cannot escape discriminatory practices based on racial biases. This affects negatively their claims of being at home in Europe. Texts portraying privileged cosmopolitanisms often adopt an ironic tone which underlines the discrepancy between the members of the mobile elite and the underprivileged mobility poor. Privilege tends to enable critical distance to cultural tokens and fixed national identities. Such (self-)criticism is a key aspect of a cosmopolitan attitude.

Pragmatic, grass-root forms of cosmopolitanisms are present in narratives depicting Afroeuropean mobilities with an irregular aspect, such as clandestine migration. Here, cosmopolitanism is frequently perceived as a survival strategy in a new environment; the capacity to cross cultural, social, and linguistic boundaries in order to “manage” form the core of popular cosmopolitanisms. The analysis suggests that these forms of cosmopolitanism are particularly fragile.

Failures of cosmopolitanism inform the mobilities of “unwanted” African travellers such as asylum seekers and refugees. Their mobilities and attempts of being at home in Europe are compromised by their difficulties to cross topographical and symbolic borders. Such mobilities expose the limits of the idea(l) of a genuinely cosmopolitan Europe.

The results were/will be disseminated through scientific journal articles and conference presentations:

The articles produced during the project:
• “Cartographies of Paris: Everyday Mobilities in Michèle Rakotoson’s Elle, au printemps and Alain Mabanckou’s Tais-toi et meurs.” Resubmitted (2 May 2019; minor revisions) to The Journal of Urban Cultural Studies.
• “Clandestine Migrant Mobility, European Peripheries, and Practical Cosmopolitanism in Fabienne Kanor’s Faire l’aventure. Recommended for publication after minor revisions in Francosphères.
• “Globalisation, Mobility and Labour in African Diasporic Fiction.” Routledge Handbook of African Literature. Ed. Moradewun Adejunmobi & Carli Coetzee. London: Routledge, 2019. Invited chapter. 47-59.
• “Zombified Mobilities: Clandestine Afroeuropean Journeys in J.R. Essomba’s Le paradis du nord and Caryl Phillips’s A Distant Shore.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 31.1 (2018): 120-134.
• “Failing Border Crossings and Cosmopolitanism in Brian Chikwava’s Harare North.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Online First, 3 Sept (2018): 1-15.
• “Anxious Mobilities in Accra and Beyond: Making Modern African Subjects in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes: A Love Story.” Matatu: Journal for African Culture and Society 49.2 (2017): 307-328.

Ten papers were presented at the following conferences:
• Fictions of Europe: Imaginary Topographies and Transnational Identities across the Arts. Vrije Universiteit Brussels, 27-28.3.2019.
• Darkness. Island Dynamics, Longyearbyen, Norway, 15-16.1.2019.
• Annual Conference of the Australian Society for French Studies: Environment & Identity. University of Western Australia, Perth, 5-7.12.2018.
• Voyage and Cosmopolitanism: From the Island to the World. University of Madeira, Funchal, Portugal, 25-26.10.2018.
• Adeffi 20th Anniversary Annual Conference États presents, états futurs: French and Francophone Studies in the 21st Century. University College Dublin, Ireland, 19.-20.10.2018.
• BoMoCult/CULTCHANGE: Methods, Approaches, Ethics. University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland, 4.-5.10.2018.
• Borders & Crossing Travel Writing Conference. Juraj Dobrila University, Pula, Croatia, 12.-16.9.2018.
• Annual Conference of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies: Regional, National and Global Identities in the Francophone World. University of London, 17.-18.11.2017.
• Borders and Crossings: Travel Writing Conference. University of Aberystwyth, UK, 10-12.7.2017.
• Afroeuropeans: Black Cultures and Identities in Europe. Sixth Biennial Network Conference. University of Tampere, Finland, 6.-8.7.2017.
The project challenges uncritical and celebrative uses/reformulations of concept such as Afropolitanism, which is currently popular but analytically quite empty conceptualisation of “Africanised cosmopolitanism”. The project criticises taken-for-granted equation between mobility and cosmopolitanism: being mobile does not automatically lead to cosmopolitan aspirations.

Another step beyond the state of the art pertains to the way in which the project takes the notion of mobility “seriously” without reducing it to a metaphor or global migration. Mobility is read in a highly literal sense as business travel, mobilities in urban public transports, or clandestine migrant journeys.

The project's major impact is that it promotes a more critical understanding of cosmopolitanism in postcolonial literary studies, and contributes to enhancing dialogue between mobility studies and postcolonial literary studies. The project has increased general public’s awareness of how an important role mobility between Africa and Europe plays in contemporary African literatures. In this way, the project contributes to a better understanding of the intertwinement of Africa with Europe.