Dissertation Abstracts

Legal modernity, African women, and the novel: A jurisprudential perspective

Author: Sekai Zhou, sekaizhou2009@gmail.com
Department: Jurisprudence
University: University of Pretoria, South Africa
Supervisor: Prof. Karin van Marle
Year of completion: 2022
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: law and literature , African women , human rights , alternative modernities
Areas of Research: Law , Human Rights and Global Justice , Women in Society


This study reflects on the plight of African women and the failure of human rights to respond fully to it. For an insight into the problems that confront African women, I turn to two novels by African female writers. This study considers the coming-of-age novel or Bildungsroman as a stereotype of modernity. The study uses the narrative of human rights often portrayed as a Bildungsroman of sorts to demonstrate the limits of law and human rights, what Douzinas calls ‘legal humanism’. Law appears not to hold all the answers to why these human rights abuses against African women continue. The African female Bildungsroman seems to unmask the rationales why law and human rights seem ineffective. In addition, it provides an opportunity to explore possible alternatives to challenges confronting African women. The study uses Law and Literature approach while reading from various perspectives to understand better the plight of African women. The study examines features of legal modernity and human rights to demonstrate the relationship between law and human rights and modernity. Purple Hibiscus and Patchwork reveal the lives of African women that seem understated in legal modernity and human rights. In exploring the main features of the Bildungsroman and the feminist critiques of it, we can draw similarities to the human rights narrative. The aim is not to refuse human rights, but to indicate the gap that exists in their narrative. Adopting an empathetic jurisprudence allows us to imagine the world of justice through the eyes of African women. An empathetic jurisprudence recognises African women as human and deserving of rights. In addition, it recognises the intersectional challenges that confront African women. An empathetic jurisprudence represents the possibility of justice for African women.