Sarah Hebbouch: Forging Canonicity – The Dynamics of Beur Literature

Research and public interest in minor literatures is on the rise. Accordingly, there is an increasing need to debate, question, and deconstruct world literatures. This study examines a flourishing literary genre in France, namely ‘littérature beure‘. The neologism ‘beur’ is an inversion of the syllables of the word ‘Arabe’, redolent of a slang language spoken in Parisian suburbs. The word ‘Beurs’ refers to children of second-generation and third-generation immigrants living in France, and originating from North Africa.

Indeed, the legacy of colonialism and France’s long tradition of labor recruitment contracts has shaped the existence of diverse ethnic minorities in France to the present day, resulting thereby in a burgeoning number of expatriates. Migration flows from North Africa to France triggered the formation of new social hierarchies, and, therefore, new forms of expression. This project attempts an analysis of the anxieties and tensions existing in postcolonial literature as incarnated in Beur literature.

‘Littérature beure’ has focused on unravelling the social injustices inflicted upon expatriates and later their children, and at the same time revealing the compromises that Beurs have made in favor of their parental cultural influences. One particular question this project attempts to answer pertains to the fact that beur literature undermines canonical traditions of French literature and alters norms of what F.R. Leavis labels as ‘the Great Tradition’. The deviation from ‘ready-made models’, Hargreaves maintains, serves to endorse this literature as a minor literature that rejects adherence to ‘major’ literary prototypes. (1989: 663)

The project draws broad conclusions from a large corpus of novels, which span extensively from the 1980s, the outset of beur literature, until the present day, focusing attention towards the features of creating a literary community that relates to minor literature.

Sarah Hebbouch, born 1988, is completing a PhD dissertation at Mohammed V University, Rabat. In 2010, she obtained her Licence degree in English studies, exploring in her monograph Moroccan culture through American eyes. In 2012, she got a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies with a thesis on the literature of French suburbs. Her recent academic interests span several topics within Cultural Studies, including minority literatures, women and sufism, youth culture, and gender studies.


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