The modernizing mission: Literature and development in North Africa

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

John Paul Russo - Committee Chair


Contemporary Western modernization in the East reifies many aspects of classic European colonialism. Modernization largely privileges Western multinational interests at the expense of local or indigenous concerns in the so-called "developing" nations of the East. The colonial history of the discourse and practices of modern development may be traced in the seminal texts of anti-colonial and postcolonial literature, such as in works by Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as in the fiction and memoirs of Albert Camus, Lawrence Durrell, Naguib Mahfouz, Nawal El Saadawi, Assia Djebar, Gini Alhadeff, Andre Aciman and Edward Said. These authors represent in their texts the later colonial history of development (i.e., middle twentieth century) in the North African nations of Algeria and Egypt. Their works illustrate that modern development has entailed Western military violence, foreign domination and economic exploitation in the East. They provide a detailed and, as with Said, Alhadeff and Aciman, even an intimate view of a particular aspect of modernization: the privileging of a local elite class (compradors) by Western agents to the disadvantage of the impoverished, local majority in North Africa. The development and maintenance of elites in Algeria and Egypt makes apparent the intervention of foreign colonial agency; but it also belies the (fallacious) assumption that "modern development" will eventually "trickle down" from elites to the impoverished masses in the East. The critical regard of unequal, modern development provides a more complex understanding of the anti-colonial movements for sovereignty and independence in North Africa. The revolutionary nationalism and nativism which characterized the independence movements there may be seen to respond to the disparate material conditions of local society which had been engendered by Western modernization. The complexities of nativism and nationalism are evident in the works of Carnus, Saadawi and Mahfouz, and others who, in the context of the anticolonial moment of the day, thought deeply about issues of indigenity and national identity. Ultimately, the North African authors discussed here sought to make an identity, if not also a place, for themselves in a modern East rapidly "developing" its postcolonial condition.


Literature, Modern; Literature, Middle Eastern; Literature, African

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