Theses Doctoral

Fictions of Development: Decolonization, Development Economics, and the African Novel

Horst, Lauren

This dissertation, “Fictions of Development: Decolonization, Development Economics, and the African Novel,” maps the tensions as well as the surprising resonances and interdependencies between development institutions and African literary production. The arc of the dissertation begins in the early 1960s, as many postcolonial countries marked their independence by embarking on ambitious national development programs. It extends through the turbulent 1970s, during which the Global South agitated for a New International Economic Order that would deliver “trade, not aid,” and the reactionary 1980s, in which the World Bank and the IMF pressured governments across the Global South into adopting a series of macroeconomic reforms known as structural adjustment. The dissertation ends in the present moment, as pressing social and environmental concerns have given rise to a (supposedly) new era of “sustainable” development.

Taken as a whole, “Fictions of Development” unsettles received notions about both development and African literature. Scholars working in and around postcolonial studies have long understood development as the contemporary counterpart to, and outgrowth of, the “civilizing mission” that once underwrote centuries of European conquest and colonization. Such close ties between colonialism and development have given rise to the widespread assumption that postcolonial writers, in rejecting colonialism, also rejected development.

However, by turning to the historical interactions between writers from “developing” countries and the organizations charged with the task of “developing” those countries, this dissertation tells a more complex story. Applying the tools and methods of literary criticism to a wide range of materials—from novels, plays, and memoirs to national economic planning documents, World Bank mission reports, and tourist brochures—this dissertation traces some of the ways that western development institutions use narrative form to stake their claims to knowledge of (and therefore power over) the so-called “developing” world. It also shows how four African writers—Botswana’s Bessie Head, Ghana’s Ama Ata Aidoo, Kenya’s Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Zimbabwe’s Tsitsi Dangarembga—use the narrative form of the novel to propose alternative visions of development grounded in the principles of social and economic wellbeing.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2025-06-29.

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Slaughter, Joseph R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 12, 2023