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Cultural Production and Politics in Mali

Cultural Production and Politics in Mali

A project led by Alioune Sow

Alioune Sow’s current research focuses on the critical relationship between literature, theater, cinema and political power in Mali during the military regime of 1968-1991, and in the period following the 1991 democratic transition.

Malian Cultural production, politics and human rights

This research examines how the military condition in Mali affected the configurations of cultural production, and how the latter engaged with the regime through varied responses, ranging from hesitant and elusive to forceful and dynamic, but most often problematic and strategized. The research also focuses on the changes that dramatically redefined cultural production since the democratization of the country in 1991. More specifically, as a way to look at how democratization provided new possibilities for Malian letters, the research explores the reconfigurations of the novel, the development of local literary practices such as the militant regional poetry of Albakaye Kounta, and the modalities to build a coherent literary history, with the rehabilitation of defunct literary figures, such as Fily Dabo Sissoko, or controversial writers, such as Yambo Ouologuem.

Literature, democratization and memory practices

Central to the research on democratic Mali is the relation of literature to memory practices and discourses. Looking at autobiographies and memoirs which have been published following the transition, this research project investigates the conditions of the restoration of narrative forms and genres that had been repressed and regulated by the multiple restrictions imposed by the military regime. The description and analysis of these literary forms, patterns and practices are combined with the examination of distinct motivations of writing, and are augmented by an assessment of the reception and circulation of these narratives written by former military officers, political prisoners or civil servants. This research looks at how literature responds to imperatives and obligations about the past, and how it contributes to the effervescence of memory that has revitalized segments of Malian culture kept dormant during certain periods of the country’s postcolonial history. The research ultimately demonstrates that the proliferation of memoirs very often challenges the consensual approach to the past noticed in other local memory discourses and practices. A sample of some covers from locally published political memoires and works can be found below.

Malian popular theater and social movements

This related project investigates the interaction between theatrical practices and social activism and explores consequent developments and shifts in Malian popular theater. At the centre of the investigation is the transformative impact of migration and how it has informed and shaped theatrical practices and aesthetics in the last 15 years.


Sow, Alioune. 2011 “Malian Cinema and the Question of Military Power” Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture 8: 81-97.

Sow, Alioune. 2010. “Nervous Confessions: Military Memoirs and National Reconciliation in Mali”. Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines 197(1): 69-93.

Sow, Alioune. 2009. “Alternating views: Malian cinema, television serials and democratic experience”. Africa Today 55(4): 51-70.

Sow, Alioune and Canut, C. 2014. “Testimonial Theater and Migration Performance”. Africa Today 61(2): 3-21.

Sow, Alioune and Canut, C. (ed) 2014. “Nous nous appelons les voyageurs : Mise en scène des parcours migratoires dans le théâtre des réfugiés d’Afrique centrale à Bamako”. Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines LIV (1-2): 213-214.

Sow, Alioune. ed. 2014. “Migration et comédie de réaction : Le Visa de Kanute” in C. Canut and C. Mazauric. La Migration prise aux mots, Paris, Le Cavalier Bleu.

Sow, Alioune and Mazauric, C. (eds) 2013. “Littérature et migrations transafricaines” Etudes Littéraires Africaines. Vol 36.

Sow, Alioune. 2004. “Tragédies élémentaires: ce que les astres ne disent pas”, Ponti / Ponts langues littératures civilisations des pays francophones 4.

Sow, Alioune. 2002. “The curse of the sons or the betrayal of the fathers? Rethinking the family in contemporary Malian literature”, Mande Studies 4: 171-185.


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