Research cluster presentation

The Francophone Africa research cluster focuses on two main areas. In the first, it is working on a reassessment of the legacy of French colonialism in terms of its impact both in the former French colonies and in metropolitan France. In the second, it studies the changing relations between France and the Francophone world in the context of increasing globalisation of the world economy and culture.

The work of the group is interdisciplinary in nature and draws on the study of the history, culture and language of both metropolitan France and other Francophone countries and regions of the world. The group has particularly strong links with Francophone Africa where the School of Languages and Area Studies has consultancy projects as well as research interests.

For more information on the Francophone Africa research cluster, please visit our page on the Centre for European and International Studies Research (University of Portsmouth) website.

Why ‘Francophone Africa’?

Researching and writing about ‘Francophone Africa’ refers to the study of the history, politics, societies and cultures of those parts of Africa formerly under French colonial rule. The term is problematic. It might suggest that people in this part of the world are (exclusively) ‘Francophones’, i.e., French-speakers. Yet whilst many do speak French, those that do are at least bilingual, also speaking their mother tongue of Arabic, Tamazight, Wolof, Bambara… ‘Francophone Africa’ might suggest studying Africa through the lens of the European colonial powers as they carved up the continent amongst themselves in the late nineteenth century, producing artificial boundaries that in no way corresponded with African understandings of territory and patterns of belonging. The term might suggest a narrow emphasis on exploring and denouncing neo-colonialism, reproducing a somewhat stereotyped and ahistorical vision of Africa as stuck in the same patterns of dependency as those of the colonial period.

So why are we sticking with ‘Francophone Africa’? First and foremost, because this is what makes us distinctive. In the UK, the majority of ‘African Studies’ still tends to focus on those countries which were formerly part of the British empire – this is ‘Anglophone Africa’ in all but name. Our focus is on countries previously under the radar – but increasingly visible – in the English-speaking world, such as Algeria, Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire… Without implying an essentialist or deterministic understanding of ‘Francophone’ – or indeed ‘Anglophone’, we accept that there were particularities of French rule in the past, and particularities of French influence in the present, and that this has had material impacts which justifies an initial lumping together of ‘Francophone African’ countries as a starting point for analysis. We take the name ‘Francophone Africa’ as a challenge,  exploring connections and exchanges across ‘Francophone’ and ‘Anglophone’ Africa in both the colonial and post-colonial periods, writing ‘south-south’ histories which bypass the colonial ‘centre’, seeking to uncover multiple voices and perspectives, and questioning just how ‘Francophone’ ‘Francophone Africa’ is today in a context of increasing globalisation.


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