Emmanuel Mounier and the awakening of Black Africa
French Cultural Studies, 17, (2), . (doi:10.1177/0957155806064442).
Emmanuel Mounier, Director of the Catholic review Esprit, was a pioneering participant in criticising French colonial activities. The debates of the 1940s were strongly framed by France’s ‘mission to civilise’ its colonies, which was supported by universal humanist aspirations but was also criticised as masking policies of exploitation and oppression. The resulting tensions are well demonstrated by Emmanuel Mounier’s book L’Éveil de l’Afrique noire, published after a visit to several areas of French West Africa in the spring of 1947, at a crucial moment in France’s relations with its colonies. This article focuses on the components published in Esprit, Combat, and Présence africaine, which outlined the positive roles that France could play in the region, but warned against the dangers if opportunities were missed, and recognised the particular difficulties confronting the rising African elites. A closer examination of the discursive strategies he deployed shows that Mounier’s frame of reference remained within the paternalist paradigm of republican humanism, and that he saw France’s role as a duty to guide the development of Africa. However, in the myths and metaphors he adopted a more radical vision can be identified, which expressed an underlying anti-colonialism.
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