Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies: For a New Approach to World Literature explores the numerous and often fractured worlds of literature from the perspective of multilingual societies.

Sites in North India, the Maghreb and the Horn of Africa have been chosen for their multiple precolonial written and oral traditions and different experiences of colonialism and nationalism. The project will focus on three time periods: colonial consolidation, decolonisation and the current globalising moment. It will explore the local interplay of cultural traditions, local debates on world literature, old and new forms of multilingualism, and actors and technologies of print and orality.

Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies (MULOSIGE) will aim to counter the identification of world literature with English by highlighting the multilingualism and the many factors that contribute to regional and transnational literary fields. Instead of imitation and diffusion, the project will seek to illuminate the dynamics of appropriation and creativity.

To our knowledge, there has been no direct literary link between North India, Morocco (the Maghreb), and Ethiopia (the Horn of Africa) in modern times, so this will not be a project about contact zones or connections but rather about patterns and comparison. Comparison is functional to our aim of proposing a located approach to world literature that complements the current approach based on global circulation and replaces the simplistic and misleading grand narrative of European centres and Asian and African peripheries.

Against a historical understanding that posits “world regions” as superseded by a “world-system” with Europe at its imperial centre, a located and multilingual approach aims to show that appropriation and transculturation are more productive ways of thinking about literary dynamics and developments; that the imperial centre–colonial periphery axis was only one model in circulation and European literature was also co-constituted through this axis.

The aim is to make a significant intervention in or reshape the field of world literature and propose methodologies, training models, and case studies to support the claim that “multilingual locals” and multiple “significant geographies” are appropriate for the study of world literature in other parts of the world, Europe included. The project will have strategic dialogues with scholars and writers from across SOAS’ regions of specialism as well as the UK and Europe.

The regions of modern North India, the Maghreb and the Horn of Africa make up the case studies for the project.

In each of the three case studies MULOSIGE will ask:


  • What were the old “significant geographies” in each region and each language?
    • Did they map onto one other or did they diverge?
    • What new “significant geographies” were produced with colonisation, decolonisation, and in this time of “world literature”?
    • How can we think about local and transnational literary space in ways that highlight the “multiplicity of stories” and the co-constitution of metropolitan and local rather than a simple narrative of metropolitan diffusion and colonial imitation.


  • What did modern writers in North India, the Maghreb and the Horn of Africa appropriate from older literary models/genres as well as those coming from other literatures?
    • How did they appropriate and transculturate and along which vectors?
    • What have local debates on world literature been like, what have they privileged and selected, and why?
    • What have modern language-literary formations marginalised?
    • And how have older actors and forms of orature lived on in the world of print and other modern technologies; what mixed oral-written/printed forms have developed?

  • What were and are the dynamics of these “multilingual locals”?
    • Do people read and write in more than one language, or read and write in one but also participate in others?
    • Do they keep literary tastes in the different languages separate or do they mix them?
    • Should we think in terms of readerly, writerly, and textual contacts, or the lack of them?

  • Has any of this multilingual literary production achieve international (“global”) recognition, and if so how?
    • And how does what circulates internationally relate to what circulates internally within these literary fields?

The project is led by Professor Francesca Orsini working with a team of researchers at SOAS: Dr Karima Laachir,  Dr Sara Marzagora,  Dr Fatima BurneyDr Itzea Goikolea-Amiano,  July BlalackJack Clift and Ayele Kebede Roba. MULOSIGE is hosted by the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies at SOAS, whose ambition is to intervene in world debates and disciplines from the perspective of its areas of research. The project will run for 5 years ending in December 2020. Events will take place at SOAS and at partner institutions across Europe, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa and North India.