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Space and the Production of Order and Disorder

Claudia Gebauer (U Bayreuth, Germany), ed.
Publication Date2015
PublicationSPP Working Paper No. 12
PublisherDFG Priority Programme (SPP 1448): "Adaptation and Creativity in Africa"

The working paper presents the results of the second biannual conference in October 2014 in Saly (Senegal) organized by the DFG Priority Programme (SPP 1448): “Adaptation and Creativity in Africa: Technologies and Significations in the Production of Order and Disorder”. Based on the discussions at the conference, three working papers are being organized. This working paper discusses space as a sensitizing analytical concept.

The DFG Priority Programme (SPP 1448): “Adaptation and Creativity in Africa: technologies and Significations in the production of Order / Disorder”1 held its second biannual conference in October 2014 in Saly, Senegal. Based on the discussions at the conference three working papers are being organized. During the course of the past four years the SPP 1448 has formed three “clusters” to bring together the different topics, theoretical interests and regional contexts of the individual research projects. In these three clusters, the researchers are dealing with “technologies”, “narratives / significations” and “space” as specific “conceptual lenses” through which they are exploring the overarching objective of the programme, namely to understand how creative adaptations enact specific forms of institutional dis / order. Aiming to elicit fruitful discussions within, but more importantly also between these three clusters, the format of the second biannual conference in Saly, Senegal centred on the presentation of short “vignettes”.

The chosen format promised to enable concise, insightful presentations of current empirical findings that were also referred to as “thick descriptions” from the field. Subsequently these were – through commentaries by selected speakers and invited guests, as well as through the general discussion – to be related to the overarching framework of the Priority Programme, its key concepts of “adaptation”, “creativity” and “dis / order”. The vignettes as a format of presenta¬tion were chosen to allow the conceptual discussions be informed by empirical situations. Each vignette provided direct insights into the empirical material of the individual projects. Conse¬quently, the objective of the format was to deliberately circumvent all-encompassing project presentations and detailed reports on the achievements made over the course of the most recent research period.2 Conceiving vignettes as either a conceptual description of a particular situation (e.g. a meeting witnessed), a speech act (e.g. a radio show), a dispute (e.g. over the erection of a monument), the use of a technological device (e.g. a rapid malaria test), – or a combination thereof – sought to allow for the presentation of vivid portrayals from the field, to enhance the representational richness and thereby fuel inspirational discussions within and between the clusters. In each session selected speakers, in turn, commented on the vignettes, either providing specific commentaries from the perspective of the individual clusters or more gener¬ally pointing to the manner in which these vignettes allowed for new conclusions within the larger framework of the programme – i.e. how each cluster helps to understand dis / ordering practices.

At the same time the format and the discussions it evoked allowed to carve out important differences and commonalities between the three clusters. For example, each cluster points to a different set of theoretical and methodological approaches to address dis / ordering practices. In this sense they sensitise the researchers to review their own empirical material in a certain way. Clustering research findings does also not mean to produce conceptual homogenization – quite the contrary. Thinking dis /order through space, significations, and technologies opens up a discussion about how to draw together different objects of study, regional contexts and theo¬retical thinking. Thus, it is important to note that the aim of the clusters is not to rethink space, technologies or significations and to provide a new comprehensive generalization of these concepts. Rather the research findings presented in the clusters all show how these concepts can be fruitfully utilized to examine practices of order and disorder.

Finally, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014 has to be recognized, since it raised concerns amongst the organizers and participants in terms of justifying or reconsidering their participation. The Ebola crisis was on different levels a constant companion for the debates during and after the conference. It was for example a painful reminder on the way global health infrastructures are often far from being functional in local settings precisely because the technologies, standards and people they circulate are not adapted to these contexts. In this sense the Ebola crisis gave a particular urge to the research agenda of the SPP 1448. But the close proximity of unreasonable death also put the finger on the ethical and moral dilemmas of doing research and organizing conferences in periods of distress. It heavily contested the idea that academic research can be apolitical or does not need to address current developments outside the established comfort zones. Here, the Ebola crisis helped the researchers of the SPP 1448 to review their own theoretical and empirical vantage points on contemporary challenges in African contexts.

About the contributions: Thinking Space
This working paper discusses space as a sensitizing analytical concept. During the course of the conference, two sessions were devoted to the space cluster, which in the provide the basic structure for this working paper. In each of the cluster sessions, three vignettes were presented and subsequently commented on. We are beginning the working paper with a brief introduction on “space”. After this eight inputs are presented, six vignettes and two comments.

Content of the Working Paper: 1. Leboi’s Revelation: On (not) Translating the Climate in Tanzania — S. De Wit 2. “Who told them to decide for us, instead of us deciding ourselves?” The production of spaces in the Kigamboni New City Project — S. Hossain 3. The South Africa-Zimbabwe border: a space of danger and control? — A. Hüncke 4. Space, ontonorms and the socio-material politics of technologies — a comment on Hossain, Hüncke and de Wit — U. Beisel 5. An African Place in China? — K. Liang

1. Federalism in Ethiopia: Motivations, Effects, and the Role of Adaptation — F. Müller
2. Emplacement upon arrival — M. Stasik
3. T / Here: Global Territories in a B / Ordered Space of Assemblages — a comment on Liang, Müller and Stasik — M. Boeckler

Thinking “space” as an SPP cluster
The SPP research agenda assumes that with the end of the cold war African societies were increasingly confronted with dramatic political, social and economic changes. In many places Africa was respaced: Social relations were redefined, often deterritorialized (through migration, violent conflict, the effects of climate change, the rise of new actors such as religious move¬ments, etc.) – but also reterritorialized where actors managed to re-establish spatial sovereignty. Questions of control, multiple sovereignties, and – at times competing – societal orders are still contemporary ones here and elsewhere.

The cluster on space in the SPP 1448 draws on current literature that abandons older notions of space that were often associated to mapping practices or “container thinking”. Other schol¬arly work and new analytical tools have long overruled these approaches. The often-mentioned “spatial turn” (Soja 1989; Massey 2005), which influenced quite a number of scholarly disciplines to date, therefore comes to full effect in this collection of research insights provided. They take the interrelations of the social construction of space, and its relational character, into account while at the same time acknowledging the role of spatial configurations in the formation and change of societies. While some projects of the SPP are treating territorialization and place-making in more detail in a currently evolving edited volume, the vignettes presented here provide an insight into how different disciplines, and those that represent them, have a varied understanding of the topic and not only consider spaces and places as entities to be studied, but also interrelations that become observable in spatial practices.

Claudia Gebauer, (U Bayreuth, Germany)
Eva Riedke, (U Mainz, Germany)
Norman Schräpel, (U Halle–Wittenberg, Germany)

Biographical Note:

Uli Beisel (U Bayreuth, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Translating Global Health Technologies: Standardisation and organisational learning in health care provision in Uganda and Rwanda”)

Marc Boeckler (U Frankfurt, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Global Micro in the Making: The Marketization of Weather Index Insurance for Agriculture in Ghana”)

Sara De Wit (U Cologne, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Translating the Adaptation to Climate Change Paradigm in Eastern Africa”)

Claudia Gebauer (U Bayreuth, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Translating the Adaptation to Climate Change Paradigm in Eastern Africa”)

Shahadat Hossain (TU Dortmund, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Translating urban infrastructure ideals and planning models: adaptation and creativity in water and sanitation systems in African cities”)

Anna Hüncke (U Konstanz, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “The Anthropology of Transnational Crime Control in Africa: The War on Drugs and the Fight against Human Trafficking”)

Kelly Si Miao Liang (German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “West African Traders as Translators between Chinese and African Urban Modernities”)

Felix Müller (U Leipzig, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Changing stateness in Africa: Cameroon, Ethiopia and Ghana compared”)

Eva Riedke (U Mainz, Germany, SPP 1448 Project “Political cultures in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa” Norman Schräpel (U Halle–Wittenberg, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Translating Global Health Technologies: Standardisation and organisational learning in health care provision in Uganda and Rwanda”)

Michael Stasik (U Bayreuth, Germany, SPP 1448 Project: “Roadside and travel communities. Towards an understanding of the African long-distance road (Sudan, Ghana)”)