Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Francesca Canadé Sautman

Committee Members

Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Donald Robotham

Subject Categories

African Studies | Comparative Literature | French and Francophone Language and Literature | Human Rights Law | International Law | Law and Society | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


Childhood, Children's Rights, African Literature, Legal Pluralism, French and Francophone Literature, postcolonialism and globalization


This dissertation traces, in Sub-Saharan Francophone literature and in African regional law, a mode of construction of childhood characterized by cultural mixture. It contends that the gradually articulated hybrid mode of construction of childhood and children’s experience in African literature and law is connected to changing discourses on cultural identity. African cultural identity discourses shifted from an earlier affirmation of cultural authenticity, evident in early Négritude ideology, to a later claim of cultural mixture. Early African childhood narratives asserted cultural authenticity by praising a pristine African world rendered in standard European languages, whereas subsequent postcolonial childhood narratives used linguistic and cultural hybridity to account for the mosaic of realities in the postcolony. The narratives of cultural mixture blossomed under a later form of Négritude that traded the initial cultural authenticity discourses for new concepts such as métissage and civilization of the universal. Contemporaneously to these postcolonial claims of cultural mixture, local and regional laws in Africa gradually embraced legal pluralism. I contend that the conjoined efforts of law and literature in utilizing the emblematic imagery of childhood as an ethos of cultural hybridization has substantial implications for ongoing global discourses. Not only does it revive questions about African cultural identity today, after decades of colonial perception of African as children and lacking civilization, it also unveils an African voice that rejects the received idea that the continent is a tabula rasa on which western models can be exported and normalized. I study an example of this African voice with the notion of African childhood, which was invented in literature as a local counterpart to what has now emerged as global childhood, a childhood also imagined in European Romantic literature, then formalized in international law. This study relies on cultural, literary and human rights critical theories, and documents the various ways in which literature and international law have created a ‘battlefield’ where hegemonic and subaltern postcolonial discourses often confront each other.