Engaging Modernity: Muslim Women and the Politics of Agency in Postcolonial Niger

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Seizing the space opened by the early 1990s democratization movement, Muslim women are carving an active, influential, but often-overlooked role for themselves during a time of great change. Engaging Modernity provides a compelling portrait of Muslim women in Niger as they confronted the challenges and opportunities of the late twentieth century.
    Based on thorough scholarly research and extensive fieldwork—including a wealth of interviews—Ousseina Alidou’s work offers insights into the meaning of modernity for Muslim women in Niger. Mixing biography with sociological data, social theory and linguistic analysis, this is a multilayered vision of political Islam, education, popular culture, and war and its aftermath. Alidou offers a gripping look at one of the Muslim world’s most powerful untold stories.

Runner-up, Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Illustrates the complex interplay of gender, Islam, and modernity in Niger and the way that women manage to negotiate their way in a society with a strong patriarchal tradition. . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice

“Linguist and cultural critic Ousseina Alidou transforms the grounds of debate over modernity, gender, and Islam not only in Africa but across the globe. Her elegant and eminently readable book undermines assumptions of women ruled by ethnicity, passivity, and religious affiliation, casting light instead on women’s activism in Niger and the challenge it poses to the ethnicization of politics and identity. Placing the social biographies of three very different women in dialogue with her own experience as a female intellectual from Niger in the United States, Alidou changes how we think about contemporary Muslim women.”—Barbara Cooper, Rutgers University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299212148
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 9/19/2011
  • Series: Women in Africa and the Diaspora Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ousseina D. Alidou is associate professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature, affiliate of the graduate faculty of the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University, and director of the Program in African Languages and Literatures. She is coeditor of A Thousand Flowers and Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa and is author of many articles on African linguistics, literature, and women’s studies.

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Table of Contents





    Background to the Study

    Beyond Ethnicity: Brassage Sahélien

    Niger: Postcolonial Developments

    The Period of the 1990s

    Enactment of Identity in the Urban Landscape

    From Makaranta/Madarasa Literacy to the Quest for Material Basis of Empowerment

    The Place of Biography

    Outline of the Book

Part 1: Women, Education, and Epistemological Traditions

Chapter 1: When Kuble (Seclusion) Literacy Invades the Electronic Space: Malama A’ishatu Hamani Azrmakoy Dancandu and the Politics of Knowledge


    Gendered Spaces: Between Indigenous Tradition and French Colonialism

    Poetry, Piety, and Identity

    Transitional “Digraphia”: From Hausa Ajami to Arabic Script

    Malama A’ishatu: Between Womanhood and Motherhood


Chapter 2: Women and the Political Economy of Education


Women, Orality, and Literacies in Precolonial Niger

Women’s Other Educational Skills in the Precolonial Era

Education and the French “Civilizing” Mission: Gender Implications

Women in Education in the Aftermath of Independence

Constraints on Women’s Education in Postcolonial Niger

Women in lslamic Schools

Grassroots Women’s Responses to the Educational Crisis

Part 2: Women, Folklore, and Performative Identities

Chapter 3: Politics, Popular Culture, and Women Performing Artists: A Biographical Inquiry in a Francophone-Islamic Context


    Habsu Garba and Hybridity: A Critical Discourse Analysis

    Habsu Garba and Educational Brassage

    Habsu Garba: Between Modern Education and Indigenous Traditions

    Brassage and the Urban Landscape

    In Search of Professional Fulfillment

    The Becoming of a Performing Artist and Its Cultural Problematics

    Griotte(s) of Tradition and Modernity: The Struggle for Space

    Functional Art: Between Orality and Literacy

    The Tension between Performance and Politics

    Between Politicla Patronage and Political Representation

    When Fieldwork Connects the Present with the Past


Chapter 4: Cinderella Goes to the Sahel


    Islam, Folklore, Gender, and Modernity

    The Story of the Orphan Girl Who Married the Prince of Masar

    Analysis of the Tale


Part 3: Women and Overt Political Contestation

Chapter 5: Islamisms, the Media, and Women’s Public Discursive Practices


    Democratization and the Rise of Political Islam in Niger

    Democracy, Islam, the Media, and Women’s Activism

    Plural Islamisms and the Hijab Discourse

    Women’s Islamic Literacy and the Public Display of Knowledge

    Women, Islamisms, the Family Code, and the Media in Niger

    UN Family Planning Campaign and Muslim Women’s Activism in the Media

Chapter 6: Through the Eyes of Agaisha: Womanhood, Gender Politics, and the     Tuareg Armed Rebellion

    Historical Background

    The Political Context of the Uprising

    Brassage Sahélien: Women Dispel the Myth of Ethnic Purity

    Tuareg Women Entrapped by Identity Ties

    Sisterhood during War



    Appendix A: Abdoul Salam’s Dance Song Tigyedima: Transregional and Transethnic Sahelian Brassage

    Appendix B: Biographical Sketch of Dr. Malama Zeinab Sidi Baba Haidara




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