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Special Issue: European Peripheries in the Postcolonial Literary Imagination

Deadline for extended abstracts: 30 April 2019

Deadline for articles: 1 December 2019

European metropolises such as London and Paris have played a prominent role in the production and critical evaluation of postcolonial writing in recent decades (see e.g. McLeod 2004; Adesanmi 2005; Kuietche Fonkou 2010; De Souza & Murdoch 2013; Perfect 2014; Amine 2018). From The Lonely Londoners to Brick Lane and Londonstani, and from Mirages de Paris to Le paradis du nord and Le petit prince de Belleville, postcolonial subjects have inscribed themselves into the literary imagination by rewriting European cityscapes from a migrant/diasporic perspective, and thus have drawn attention to the ways in which Europe itself is postcolonial (Schulze-Engler 2013). However, as postcolonial mobilities keep diversifying, non-metropolitan locations in the UK and France, cities in countries with no direct involvement in colonialism, rural areas, or islands situated on the fringes of Europe have increasingly found their way into the postcolonial literary imaginary.

Examples of such an engagement with peripheral spaces include, for instance, the Scottish countryside in Leila Aboulela’s The Kindness of Enemies, the Portuguese village of Mamarrosa in Monica Ali’s Alentejo Blue, Edinburgh in Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician, Lyon in Tierno Monénembo’s Un rêve utile, the Spanish enclaves in Marie NDiaye’s Trois femmes puissantes as well as the British North in Caryl Phillips’s The Lost Child. Contesting postcolonial in/visibilities in peripheral locations and, in some cases, challenging the evaluative stance which associates peripheral spaces with backwardness, stagnation, and neglect, these examples show that the portrayal of European peripheries by postcolonial authors can widen our understanding of ‘postcolonial Europe’ by drawing attention to the ways in which the continent that postcolonial theories regularly conceive as a centre is internally divided into centres and peripheries. Therefore, this special issue aims 1) not just to complement the predominantly urban focus of postcolonial criticism but 2) also to re-think the notion of periphery in postcolonial theory.

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Periphery – as a spatial location and socio-cultural formation – is a concept that relies not only on the idea of unequal power structures between centres and margins, but also on that of connectivity and relatedness (Peeren, Stuit, & Van Weyenberg 2016; Ameel, Finch, & Salmela 2015). This conceptual complexity shows for instance in the way in which peripheries’ relations to centres are often marked by a mixture of admiration and hostility. Peripheries are constructed and valued through their relations to centres. While central metropolitan settings are frequently seen as sites of transculturation and cosmopolitanization, the concept of periphery easily evokes the concept of provincialism. Milan Kundera (2007) defines provincialism as an “inability (or the refusal) to see one’s own culture in the large context.” As such, provincialism can be understood as an anti-cosmopolitan attitude which is also closely linked to postcolonial amnesia. Yet, while peripheral spaces are often informed by their uneasy relations with centres, it should be acknowledged that they “emerge from specific contexts or encounters and can therefore neither be understood as necessarily nostalgic or reactionary nor as inherently progressive” (Peeren, Stuit, & Van Weyenberg 2016, 3).

Being relegated to a marginal position by (neo)colonial discourses, postcolonial authors appear particularly well-positioned to explore the complexities of intra-European peripheral locations and to question oppositional views of centre and periphery in a postcolonial context. Consequently, a third aim (3) of this special issue is to explore what is characteristic to postcolonial literary representations of European peripheries. We invite articles that analyse the representation of peripheries and less central cities in the UK, France, and elsewhere in Europe in literary texts that can be read from a postcolonial perspective. Proposals adopting a comparative approach to postcolonial narratives of European central and peripheral locations are also welcome. Contributions may probe the applicability of different theoretical and conceptual lenses in their analysis of the postcolonial depiction of European peripheries, including e.g. the Bakhtinian ‘chronotope’, Dipesh Chakrabarty’s idea of ‘provincializing Europe’, or recent attempts to revise received notions of ‘cosmopolitanism’ from a postcolonial angle.

The topic of this special issue revolves around – without being limited to – the following questions:

    • How do postcolonial literary texts represent European peripheries? Do they challenge the link between peripheries and provincialism? Can peripheries be progressive postcolonial spaces?
    • How are European peripheries postcolonial and (how) does their “postcoloniality” differ from that of metropolitan locations? If depictions of European metropolises in postcolonial literatures tend to reflect on themes such as cosmopolitanism and transculturation, which issues pertain to depictions of European peripheries? What is possible in the periphery that would not be possible in the metropolis?
    • How are European peripheral locations related to the postcolonial periphery at large? Do parallels or differences prevail? Does postcolonial writing speak of an understanding for provincial structures based on pre-migratory experiences?
    • Which aesthetic means do postcolonial fictions use in their portrayals of peripheral spaces? Is there an ‘aesthetics of postcolonial peripherality’?

Submission Instructions

For the special issue publication we ask contributions of no more than 7,000 words in English. The deadline for articles is 1 December 2019. Please send an extended abstract of 500 words and a 100-word author bio to Janine Hauthal (janine.hauthal@vub.be) and Anna-Leena Toivanen (anna-leena.toivanen@uef.fi) by 30 April 2019. Potential contributors should bear in mind that submitting the special issue to the peer-reviewed Journal of Postcolonial Writing will result in a two-stage review process for full essays, first by the editors of the special issue (Hauthal & Toivanen) and then by external reviewers.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing

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Editorial Information

Guest Editors:
Janine Hauthal
Anna-Leena Toivanen

Janet Wilson, The University of Northampton, UK
Chris Ringrose, Monash University, Australia


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