African Studies Senegal
by
Linda Beck, Mark Pires
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0094

Introduction

The literature on Senegal is rich and abundant, particularly for a small, low-income West African country. The extensive research and writing that has been done in various fields of study by a wide spectrum of authors from Africa, Europe, and North America can be explained largely by the fascinating issues and examples it presents. From the country’s first president, the renowned philosopher-poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, to the acclaimed novelist Ousmane Sembène, the pioneer of African cinematography, Senegalese have contributed to, as well as served as the subject of, this rich literature. Senegal has an extensive history dating back to precolonial societies recounted in oral tradition through a near century of French colonial rule and independence as a member of the fleeting Malian Federation. Rooted in the precolonial social structures and practices of a half-dozen major ethno-regional groups and dozens of smaller groups that were transformed by colonial policies, such as assimilation, as well as both direct and indirect forms of rule, postcolonial Senegal is remarkable in its early transition to democracy, the continued though transformed role of Muslim leaders in politics, and the vibrancy of dynamic social actors, such as hip-hop artists, who have influenced Senegalese politics and society.

General Overviews

Compared to the rich literature on Senegal in the specific areas of politics, history, culture, the arts, religion, languages, etc., readily available, quality material that covers the country from a more general perspective is relatively sparse. The five sources noted in this section represent the small body of easily accessible, general overviews of Senegal. Diop 2002 includes works by an impressive team of accomplished academic researchers in offering a fairly broad introduction to contemporary Senegal. The author of Makédonsky 1987 approaches the subject from a more popular perspective, recounting insights into local culture gained through experience as a journalist working in the region over a number of years. Among English-language publications, again we have works representative of both academic and popular approaches. Hesseling 1985 provides an authoritative history that covers the precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial periods. Gellar 1995 updates the author’s authoritative and well-written volume originally published in 1982 as part of the Contemporary Nations of Africa series. While much has changed in modern Senegal since the second edition appeared, it remains a highly recommended work for readers who are new to Senegal. Ross 2008 does for the more popular audience what Gellar 1995 provides for a more scholarly readership.

  • Diop, Momar-Coumba, ed. Le Sénégal contemporain. Paris: Karthala, 2002.

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    This is a wide-ranging account of political and cultural life in post-independence Senegal presented through the work of nearly two dozen contributors in a rather hefty (655 pages) edited volume. Topics covered include, among many others, contemporary intellectual movements, music and popular culture, and a worthy section on internal political problems, such as the secessionist movement in the Casamance region.

  • Gellar, Sheldon. Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and the West. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995.

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    Gellar’s book, first published in 1982, offers a succinct general introduction to the country and its people. Ranging over topics from history to politics and economy to culture, this volume written by a veteran observer of modern Senegal still holds value as a concise and informed introduction.

  • Hesseling, Gerti. Histoire politique du Sénégal: Institutions, droit et société. Paris: Karthala, 1985.

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    In this political history of the imposition and adaptation of French constitutional law and institutions in Senegal, Hesseling begins with the precolonial context in which the French policy of assimilation was deployed. While the juridical regime did not remain unchanged after independence, Hesseling maintains that it primarily reflected presidential preferences rather than popular political debate.

  • Makédonsky, Eric. Le Sénégal, la Sénégambie. Vols. 1–2. Paris: Harmattan, 1987.

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    Written by an experienced journalist with Agence France Presse, this two-volume work on Senegal and its neighbor, Gambia, with which it shared in a short-lived and unsuccessful confederation in the early 1980s, provides a basic treatment of the region’s culture for a francophone readership.

  • Ross, Eric S. Culture and Customs of Senegal. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008.

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    This work, part of a larger series covering the African continent, offers a brief overview of Senegalese culture, focusing on the arts, religion, social relations, and basic history and geography. It is best suited to a generalist audience seeking an accessible primer on the country and its peoples.

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