Views from the Desert Edge
May 31, June 1 & 2, 2014
The third WARA-AIMS Saharan Crossroads conference brought together more than 50 scholars from around the Sahara and beyond for three days of interdisciplinary exchange. The conference, organized in collaboration with CEMA, CRASC, and the University of Ghardaia, was expertly organized by CEMA (Centre des Etudes Maghrébines en Algérie) and CRASC (Centre de Recherche en Anthropologie Sociale et Culturelle). CRASC, with its fully equipped amphitheatre, dining hall, and gardens was the perfect venue for the conference.
Presentations covered topics ranging from literature, religion, youth, architecture, hydrology, political science, and education to urbanization, manuscript collections, climate change, art, and music. This truly multi-disciplinary conference provided the rare opportunity for exchange across national, linguistic, and disciplinary borders.
An opening session featuring presentations by Ghislaine Lydon and Jean Sébastian Lecocq explored the theoretical constructs that continue to influence scholarship on the Sahara, and Africa more generally, and underlined the need for new epistemological paradigms. The racialization of the continent, its division into sub-Saharan Black Africa and a more ‘advanced’ European or white Africa to the north, the ‘civilizational bias’ that assumes one-way influence from ‘advanced’ to ‘less advanced’, la politique Berbere, la politique de race, notions of Islam Noire—all of these inherited paradigms continue to have enormous impact on our ability to see the continent and in particular, the Sahara and the communities in and surrounding it. The idea of the Sahara as a space dividing an imagined Black and White Africa is hard to shake–among scholars and even among populations on the continent. Our job as scholars, it was agreed, is to develop new ways of approaching the sub-region and its continental contexts.
In addition to the 42 different presentations, the conference included a workshop for doctoral students and a tour of the old city of Oran. It was an intense conference, and a very rich one. We look forward to making the papers available online by the end of July.
Special thanks go to Robert Parks and Karim Ouaras of CEMA for their superb organization of the conference.