Writing material
: extraction, integration, and African migrant literature in the contemporary United States

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis refers to the emerging archive of contemporary African migrant literature to argue that an extractive logic undergirds the integration of Africa and its people into the fabric of U.S. political, economic, and cultural life. I propose that recent engagements with narratives of transatlantic migration are closely connected to the aims of immigration reform in 1965 and 1990, which placed an emphasis on selecting migrants according to their potential contributions to the U.S. nation-state. The Immigration and Nationality Act replaced national origin quotas with preference categories, which have been expanded and refined since their first iteration in 1965. Through these categories, the INA encoded a more general ideological shift towards identifying, isolating, and incorporating the useful components of migrant persons, a logic that I argue finds its counterpart in the production and circulation of migrant literature. Migrant writers and their works are integrated in contemporary U.S. culture according to their potential contribution to national economic, political, and racial projects. The literary works that constitute the primary material of this thesis engage with this extractive logic in both narrative form and characterisation. Whilst they often subscribe to the possibility of seamless extraction, they also engage with circumstances that complicate and, at times, foreclose the integration of valuable entities. African migrant literature is particularly concerned with this kind of instrumentalization because it signals a potential continuation of an exploitative and extractive logic as applied to sub-Saharan Africa and its people. Literary texts by authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, NoViolet Bulawayo, Ladan Osman, Okey Ndibe, and Dinaw Mengestu are considered alongside calls for the expropriation of migrant remittances, the use of migrant labour in recycling facilities, the recruitment of medical professionals from developing nations, and the violent murders of non-compliant refugees, in order to make a case for migrant literary production as a response to the effects of extractive processes enacted on migrant persons. This thesis considers the uses of African migrants and how the isolation of useful from useless attributes shapes migrant life and cultural production.
Date of Award1 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJohn Howard (Supervisor) & Jane Elliott (Supervisor)

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