Ashleigh Harris

Ashleigh Harris

Professor, English Literature

Uppsala university

ORCID: 0000-0002-6207-3067

Ashleigh Harris is Professor at the Department of English, Uppsala University. Before coming to Sweden, she was a senior lecturer in English Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Her post-doctoral work has focused on Southern African literatures, with a particular focus on Zimbabwean writing. She is currently working on a monograph on sub-Saharan African novels of the 2000s, which focuses on how economic, environmental and epidemic forces are shaping the novel’s aesthetics, form, and function on the African continent today.

Afropolitanism's vernaculars: literature and theory

The purpose of my contribution to this project is to critique cosmopolitanism’s tendency to circumvent African spaces, aesthetics and phenomenologies. I aim to theorise the term Afropolitanism and to implement it in the analysis of contemporary African and diasporic literary texts. Coined by Taiye Selasi in 2005, “Afropolitanism” initially offers a welcome rejection of a debilitating autochthony of Africanness by describing a young mix-culture that is “redefining what it means to be African” (Selasi 2013: 529). But, on closer inspection, Selasi’s Afropolitanism is little more than African expatriate and diaspora culture in a world quite radically dissociated from African everyday life. There is no cosmopolitanism without Africa, yet the de facto and systematic evasion of Africa in the concept of cosmopolitanism is what produces the easily marketable concept “Afropolitanism”. I argue that Afropolitanism should be articulated as a reverse discourse before we can adequately understand the processes that persist in writing Africa out of the world. Drawing on Jean and John Comaroff’s theoretical claim that the global north needs to turn to the global south to understand its ever-intensifying economic and social precarity, and furthering my previous work on theory in/of Africa, I will investigate how Afropolitanism – or cosmopolitanism reoriented through the prism of African everyday life – might contribute to the theoretical repertoires of literary cosmopolitanism.

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