Unsovereign Bodies: The State and the Individual Subject in African Detective Fiction


ACLS Fellowship Program


Literatures and Cultural Studies


“Unsovereign Bodies” traces the history of the detective genre as a mode of critique in Anglophone African writing. By playing on the genre’s narrative codes, Anglophone African writers have transformed the detective novel’s ideological preoccupation with liberal capitalism and its discontents into a broader critical engagement with the collectivist ideals of decolonization, the valences of vulnerability, and, most consistently, the compromised sovereignties of the state and the individual. The project reads African detective fiction as a discourse on governance and citizenship by and for those who have never been able to take for granted the Enlightenment conceptions of the sovereign state or the sovereign rights-bearing individual subject, which are supposed to define the modern nation state. For their local readerships, the novels ultimately question how individuals and communities manage risk and resources given the radical instability of the sovereignty of the state and rights-bearing citizen.