Towards Socialism with a Small 's:' Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen and the Reconsideration of Welfare State Nostalgia

Kasim Husain


This article complicates recent calls for a return of the welfare state by historicizing its deleterious effects on racialized subjects in Britain through an analysis of Buchi Emecheta’s 1974 novel, Second-Class Citizen. The article examines the notion that the human costs of reviving state-centric policies aimed at countering the current hegemony of neoliberalism are worth the price, as exemplified by Tony Judt’s late-career call for a return of the welfare state. In accordance with Jennifer Wenzel’s concept of “anti-imperialist nostalgia,” I read Emecheta's text as militating against a simplistic left liberal nostalgia for the welfare state, seeking both political possibility in this past political formation while remaining vigilantly critical of its excesses. Just as Emecheta advocated a nuanced feminism that responds to material exigencies, rather than adhering rigidly to Eurocentric ideals, so this re-reading of her novel demonstrates the risks of an overly doctrinaire re-implementation of social democratic ideas.


Welfare state; nostalgia; neoliberalism; black family; feminism

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