A Postcolonial Theory of Universal Humanity: Bessie Head’s Ethics of the Margins

Abstract: Universal humanity—the idea that human beings are, in some ways, all the same, possessing the same needs and rights—is the guiding principle of humanitarian action. Within postcolonial studies, this universalist philosophy has come under intense scrutiny for its Western bias and neglect of cultural and historical difference. This article explores the tension between humanitarian discourse and postcolonial theory through analysis of Bessie Head’s fiction, asking how we might envision a form of international community that avoids imperial power dynamics. Head’s work critiques universal humanism for its links with Western arrogance, while also reimagining it as a legitimately inclusive foundation from which to confront global inequity.

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