Africa for Africans: Métissage, Assimilation, and French West Africa's Cultural Evolution

Lakin-Schultz, Katherine, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Drame, Kandioura, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Levine, Alison, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Blatt, Ari, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores and traces the evolution of the role of cultural métissage as a philosophical response to colonialism in French West Africa (AOF). I use the West African press and select literary texts to show how and why assimilation and métissage emerged as a central debate, primarily in the 1930s and 1940s, with some attention given to the 1950s and the build up to African Independences (1960). Changes in colonial policy in the 1930s provoked heightened interest in the subject from the educated African elite and divergent camps formed with some rejecting assimilation (led by Léopold Sédar Senghor) while others promoted selective assimilation or cultural métissage (led by Ousmane Socé). The press and primarily, Paris-Dakar and later Dakar-Jeunes, became a platform for rich discussion between 1937 and 1942.

In my first chapter, I show how Ousmane Socé emerged as a vocal champion of cultural métissage in French West Africa. He used his novels and the press to promote métissage as the key to African cultural, economic, and social development. He was not in favor of replacing African culture with a French model, but was open to some outside cultural influence. Senghor, however, first sought to focus on cultural authenticity and my second chapter traces his philosophical evolution from his rejection of métissage in the 1930s to his embrace of the philosophy in the late 1950s, exemplified through his conception of la Civilisation de l’Universel. Chapter 3 explores how the symbolic rivalry between Socé and Senghor, established after 1937, pushed Socé to launch a debate on cultural métissage in 1942 in the Vichy-sponsored newspaper, Dakar-Jeunes. I explain how this culturally-focused publication could exist in a period marked by reduced liberties in AOF, hosting a rich exchange on the topic with the participation of West African intellectuals including Socé, Abdoulaye Sadji, and Mamadou Dia.

Lastly, my fourth chapter examines the role Sadji had in the métissage debate, focusing on his more nuanced approach. He never took Socé’s or Senghor’s side, but was active in the press, often using folklore to promote the value African cultural authenticity. My ultimate conclusion is that the dominance and duration of the debate on assimilation and cultural métissage in AOF points to Africans’ desire to determine their own cultural future and have more autonomy.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Francophone African Literature, colonial history, Negritude, French West Africa, métissage
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