Representations of Childhood and Youth in Postcolonial Life-writing

O'Mahony, Sarah Louise. 2009. Representations of Childhood and Youth in Postcolonial Life-writing. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis addresses representations of childhood and youth in postcolonial lifewriting. Comparing twentieth-century life-narratives focused on childhood from West Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, the thesis examines how autobiographical subjectivity and fonn are inflected by postcolonial experience. Textual readings are structured by a theoretical framework which draws on the two fields of postcolonial and autobiography studies.

The introductory chapter outlines the study's theoretical and conceptual contexts, addressing the Eurocentrism of dominant critical perspectives on childhood in life-writing, and the functions of the child figure in colonial and postcolonial discourses.

The first chapter explores the relationship between memory and history, focusing on texts in which subjectivity and narrative fonn are fractured in the aftennath of postcolonial histories of conflict. Offering alternative historiographies, these life-narratives challenge conventional distinctions between a 'private' domain of autobiographical memory and the 'public' historical record.

The second chapter considers embodiment. With the dominance of the Cartesian model of a subjectivity autonomous of the body, this area has traditionally been neglected in autobiography criticism. As colonised subjects are negatively defined by association with the body, this model is especially problematic for postcolonial life-writing. The argument develops through a comparison of texts in which constructions of autobiographical selfhood are contingent on negotiation of embodiment.

The third chapter investigates issues of space, discussing texts in which postcolonial autobiographical identities are mapped through child subjects' trajectories of mobility across colonised and indigenous locations.

The fourth chapter examines individual and collective representation. Questioning claims that the autobiography of childhood necessarily focuses on a subjectivity abstracted from wider society, the argument also critiques an exclusionary focus on collectivity in the nascent field of postcolonial life-writing criticism, analysing relationships between constructions of selfhood and collective identity in three contemporaneous texts from different postcolonial regions.

The conclusion summarises the project's contribution to knowledge in demonstrating the value of a dialogue between the fields of autobiography and postcolonial studies, and providing a starting point for the analysis of representations of childhood in postcolonial life-writing, an area neglected in previous criticism.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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childhood, youth, postcolonial life-writing, autobiography, postcolonial studies

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

04 Jun 2020 14:17

Last Modified:

12 Sep 2022 11:20


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