Call for Papers (edited volume): (Wo)men of power, biographies and the African post-colonial state

Papers will be accepted in French and in English


In 2015, the South African comedian Trevor Noah compared the then presidential candidate Donald Trump to the stereotypical picture of African presidents: narcissistic characters uttering irrational statements and exhibiting autocratic tendencies. The video was watched by 4,9 million viewers on Youtube, a success that shows the persisting appetite for such cartoonish representations of African leaders who seem to exist as an almost a-historical allegory.

One of the reasons such characterizations continue to exist is the lack of sufficient historical assessment of the complex political, social, and economic context of presidential power. The formation of the post-colonial African state has been told from a highly theoretical perspective. The concepts of “personal rule” and “big man” overshadowed the complex roles of individual political actors while exclusively focusing on male power and leaving the political life stories under-developed.

Renewed academic interest has only recently refreshed the use of biography writing in African history. While political biography can enable us to reflect on why, at a particular time, a particular individual became the “sole speaker”, not only of an whole generation but of an entire political system, it should also explore the lives of those whose alternative political projects were aborted, failed or, perhaps, forgotten.

This call for publication invites a reflection on the uses of political biography to foster new perspectives on the history of the postcolonial African state. We welcome proposals dealing with the political lives of those who were officially in office as well as contributions focusing on political personalities vying for power without official positions, especially women, or focusing on social groups to exemplify new biographical narrative of resistance.

Researchers from various fields (history, political science, literature…) are invited to send proposals relating to one or several of the following themes:

  • Political biographies and African history: theory, concepts and methodology
  • Political biographies of men/women who vied for power, hold office and/or defended alternative visions of state formation / state management.
  • The use of political biography to re- or deconstruct the myth of the “father of the nation”
  • The independence negotiations viewed through life-writing/biographies
  • Biographies of influential women during and after the decolonisation process
  • Prosopography / biographies of social groups during and after the decolonisation process

The publication will be submitted to an international publishing house. If interested, please send an abstract in English or French (200-300 words) and a short C.V. (2 pages max.)  by 31 August 2018 to Anaïs Angelo:

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