CFP: Tea in the Sahara: Exploring Shifting Ethnic Subjectivities on the Saharan Frontier (African Studies Association)

19 February 2013

African Studies Association (ASA) 2013 Annual Meeting
The 56th Annual Meeting of the ASA will take place November 21-24, 2013 at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront Hotel Baltimore, Maryland

With the arrival of French troops in the city of Bamako, people in Europe and the United States have turned their attention toward the activities of rebel groups in northern Mali. Much of this newfound interest is due to the fact that one of the groups goes by the name al-Qaeda, despite the fact that, until recently, this political offshoot has more closely resembled a criminal gang than a group with any real political ambitions. In most of the reporting from Mali, the groups involved in the conflict are often reduced to mere abstractions – Tuaregs, Islamists, etc. – and their intricate political histories and internal complexities are often ignored. Most importantly, such discussions of geopolitics result in people on the ground (in a broad sense) being overlooked. Indeed, the people of the Sahel and North Africa are often talked about in relation to events in the Middle East even though the historical trajectory of these regions differs dramatically. More significantly, people will continue to inhabit this space and work to get by in this volatile landscape long after the power of the various political groups (including the French) vanishes in the desert. This panel asks who are the people of the Sahel (on both sides of the Sahara) and how do they understand their locality as an everyday lived experience. Do they consider themselves to be part of cohesive ethnic groups, or do they conceive of themselves based upon other categories (language, race, etc.)? And how does their quotidian experience allow for the production of groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb? This topic also requires us to ask whether the categories that we, as scholars, use to talk about people in this region are worthwhile. Do they reflect distinctions that people on the ground agree with? Or do they contribute to simplifying complex social phenomena and ultimately help to perpetuate violence?

We invite papers from scholars who work throughout this region – Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria – to submit papers that address these questions about the quotidian experiences of the people of the Sahel. We also hope that a panel that focuses on the Sahara and its edges will help bring North Africa more firmly into discussions of the continent as a whole.

Please submit abstracts to Addison Bradford (lewbradf@umail.iu.edu) or Katherine Wiley (katwiley@indiana.edu) by March 7, 2013.

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