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Literary Activism in sub-Saharan Africa: Commons, Publics and Networks of Practice

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LITCOM (Literary Activism in sub-Saharan Africa: Commons, Publics and Networks of Practice)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

LITCOM explores the contours of literary activism in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It views literary activism as encoding a double meaning: both describing the act of opening spaces for literary expression, while also referring to the more explicit intersection of literary engagement and socio-political activism. LITCOM examines everyday encounters with and participation in literary activism as a form of social production creating new types commons, networks of practice and sometimes-ephemeral publics which function outside of the normative sphere of the state and civil society. It offers a notion of the literary as a lived space of mediation, engagement with which itself produces new understandings of the horizons of the political in SSA.
LITCOM asks:
1. What forms of civic participation are produced, contested and authenticated through the networks of practice and forms of commoning which arise from literary activism in SSA and what new publics does literary activism create?
2. How do the commons, networks of practice and publics produced by publishers, writers and readers function with respect to formalised civil society institutions and patrimonial structures in an era alternatively characterised as that of ‘late capitalism’ (Jameson) or ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman)?
3. How does the literary, both as aesthetic practice and mediating form, enable a more expansive understanding of the political and its horizons?
4. What kinds of social and political claims does literary activism engender across its various instantiations in SSA?
5. In what ways do the ecologies of literary activism and its attendant social production make visible new topographies of affiliation in SSA?
Operating across two primary strands with four cross-cutting case studies from Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya, LITCOM combines fine-grained empirical analysis with broad-based literary and cultural readings to answer these questions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that work has primarily taken the form of desk research (including attendance and participation at a number of workshops and festivals held virtually with key partners in each case study country), interviews and group interviews via video conferencing technology, the appointment and onboarding of three postdoctoral research associates and co-production to produce a resource kit on literary translation in Africa.