Theses Doctoral

The Contentious Classroom: Education in Postcolonial Literature from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia

Twohig, Erin

My dissertation examines literary portraits of education in French- and Arabic-language literature from the Maghreb. The texts that I study recount their protagonists' experience, as students or teachers, in the school system following independence in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. I focus, in particular, on debates relating to the "Arabization" of education. Arabizing education in the Maghreb was considered a fundamental act of decolonization, yet its promotion of a single national language provoked much criticism. I examine how authors use literary depictions of the classroom to treat critical topics surrounding language policy, national identity projects, the legacy of the colonial past, and the future of the education system. The chapters of this work explore four critical issues in discussions of education: the relationship between "colonial" and "postcolonial" education systems, the place of Amazigh (Berber) minorities in an Arabized education system, the effect of education on gender dynamics, and the "economics of education" which exclude many students from social mobility. This work examines thirteen literary texts, seven written in French and six in Arabic: `Abd al-Ghani Abu al-`Azm's Al Darih and Al al Darih al-akhar, Leila Abouzeid's Ruju' ila al-tufulah and Al- Fasl al-Akhir, Wahmed Ben Younes's Yemma, Karima Berger's L'enfant des deux mondes, Maissa Bey's Bleu blanc vert, Wahiba Khiari's Nos silences, Fouad Laroui's "L'Etrange affaire du cahier bounni," Mohamed Nedali's Grâce à Jean de la Fontaine!, Brick Oussaïd's Les coquelicots de l'oriental, Habib Selmi's Jabal al-`anz, and Zohr Wanissi's Min Yawmiyat Mudarrisah Hurrah.
I adopt a comparative disciplinary approach, connecting the literary form of works to a larger discussion of the social roles of literature. I argue that the texts I examine are all concerned with the tension inherent in using the literary form to engage in discussion, and often critique, of the educational institutions that provide conditions for literature's existence. My dissertation elucidates the stakes of this complicated relationship between education and literature in the Maghreb, asking how it is continuing to evolve. There is a marked anxiety in each of these works as to whether the student will become a reader of the literary text. This anxiety colors approaches to all of the issues that surround education, and brings into question the place of literature in contemporary Maghrebi cultures.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Dobie, Madeleine
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014