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HomeAppropriating Space in Colonial and Imperial Contexts

Appropriating Space in Colonial and Imperial Contexts

Appropriations d’espaces en contexte colonial et impérial

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Published on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 by João Fernandes

Summary

Since their renewal in the 1980s, colonial and imperial studies have often focused on cultural representations and social practices. More recently, scholars have shown increased interest in the spatial dimensions of colonial phenomena, producing thematic atlases and analyzing imperial cartographies. Using the concept of appropriation, this call for papers seeks to stimulate further research on concrete connections between human interactions and spatial transformation in colonial and imperial settings. This multidisciplinary international conference will focus on modern (post)colonial and imperial spaces (19th–21st century), including both urban and rural environments. We aim at decrypting complex dynamics of spatial appropriation and their impact upon social relations. How does the radical transformation of a particular space impinge upon resource accessibility and use, local human experience and the construction of social identities?

Announcement

Argument

Since their renewal in the 1980s, colonial and imperial studies have often focused on cultural representations and social practices. More recently, scholars have shown increased interest in the spatial dimensions of colonial phenomena, producing thematic atlases and analyzing imperial cartographies.[1] Using the concept of appropriation, this call for papers seeks to stimulate further research on concrete connections between human interactions and spatial transformation in colonial and imperial settings.

Inspired by geographical and anthropological studies, appropriation as an analytical tool avoids the ethnocentric tendencies and meaning limitations carried out by other notions such as property[2] (a very European and law-oriented term). In this sense, appropriation relates to any mean through which social actors consider a specific space as their own. Spatial conceptions and actions meant to ensure real, fictional or symbolic spatial control may be mere projection, ongoing processes or incomplete possession. In the plural form, appropriations grasps a wide array of situations involving diverging views and experiences, as well as simultaneous or successive states that accommodate or interfere one with another.

Complex appropriation dynamics may be most interestingly observed in the worldwide colonial and imperial experiences of the 19th and 20th centuries, including decolonization processes and postcolonial extensions. The control over natural resources, human transformations of urban and rural landscapes, new ways of conceiving and experimenting space are but some obvious manifestations of spatial appropriation. Although these changes were sometimes rationally planned, their implementation more often relied on the improvisation skills and adaptive abilities of men on the spot. From the first half of the 19th century, spatial transformations were facilitated by massive migrations from Europe, Russia or Japan; new techniques born out of the ideological, industrial and scientific revolutions played a pivotal role in allowing forms of spatial appropriation on an unprecedented scale.[3] Newly-explored and conquered territories were subjected to mapping and statistics, ecological transformation and material exploitation. The reconfiguration of space through new regulations, town and country planning, land uses and economic needs significantly affected colonized populations and their relation to space.

Yet the nature of such interventions was neither homogeneous nor systematic. It depended on local constraints, effective means of implementation, public debates, diverging interests and contrasted personal experiences among colonizing actors. The latter included publicists, engineers, scholars, political figures, businessmen, military commanders, administrators, missionaries, travellers, and settled migrants. Hence the pace, the intensity and the geography of spatial appropriation considerably evolved from place to place and in the course of time. For instance, land appropriation by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s hastened the sedentarization of Siksika, Pikuni and Kainai populations. By opening the plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan to English-speaking migrants, it also undermined concessions that had been previously granted to small numbers of settlers of mixed descent. When those settlers rebelled (1885), the railway was again instrumental, this time to send military troops to quell the uprising.[4] This call for papers, however, is not limited to external interventions. Studying multiple forms of spatial appropriation requires taking into account precolonial modes and their survival under colonial/imperial regimes of domination, as well as renewed actions by colonized people.[5] Even where the spatial revolution was seemingly complete, the agency of indigenous actors[6] is still evident in their ways of fighting, ignoring, circumventing, or benefitting from new territorial constraints. Their own readings and uses of a colonially-produced space point at a human capacity to adjust and invent.[7] Transcending the “colonial divide”[8], forms of space coproduction emerged where indigenous individuals acted as guides, translators, economic agents or political authorities. Such was the case in the town of Alexandria in the second half of the 19th century. Involving professional international collaborations, the developing field of property insurance shaped the social construction of space. Insurance practices derived from shared interests among Egyptian and foreign businessmen, who together produced a private and regularly updated cartography. In the context of late 19th century booming Alexandria, this kind of maps reveals toponymic choices, the identities and properties of insurance subscribers, a new perception of risk and an ability to intervene in case of fire.[9] To be sure, other forms of spatial appropriation may have owed little to the colonial/imperial context.

We invite scholarly reflections on locally-inscribed case studies, while keeping in mind the analytical value of articulating various scales.[10] Particular attention will be given to the nature of evidence documenting space-related claim-making processes that have historically coexisted, influenced one another or clashed one another in various times and places.[11] Historians, anthropologists, sociologists and geographers may observe spatial appropriations in a limited environment, e.g. a mountain range, a forest, a steppe, an agricultural or mineral exploitation, an indigenous village or a new settlement, a neighbourhood or a building, a harbour, a train station, a factory. Moments of appropriation may also serve as key entries for innovative research, e.g. the introduction of a new set of regulations, the delimitation of a parcel, the cultivation of a new plant, the disappearance of a natural resource, the planning of a new neighbourhood or the building of a touristic site.

This multidisciplinary collective project will focus on modern (post)colonial and imperial spaces (19th–21st century), including both urban and rural environments. We aim at decrypting complex dynamics of spatial appropriation and their impact upon social relations. How does the radical transformation of a particular space impinge upon resource accessibility and use, local human experience and the construction of social identities?

Main topics 

An international conference on appropriating space in colonial and imperial contexts will be held at the Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme (MMSH), Aix-en-Provence, France, on 12-14 June 2017. The organizers invite paper proposals from a broad spectrum of humanities and social sciences, including history, geography, anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, and literature. Papers should preferably focus on one of the following aspects:

  • Appropriation Modes: imaginaries, discourses, technologies, tools
  • Historical Agents and Social Interactions : negotiation, conflict, accommodation, past and present social dynamics
  • The Impact of Appropriation Processes: environmental, social, economic, political, and cultural effects
  • Temporalities: moments, durations, paces of appropriation
  • Sites and Scales: touring, territories, borders, articulating scales of social action with analytical scales 

Various issues can be tackled within these general themes, such as:

Notions of public/private/sacred space, military conquest, mapping and statistics, land surveying, limits and borders, forms of property acquisition, the elaboration and implementation of new legal norms, land reforms, toponymy and naming policies, spatial orders and social segregation, population movements, transports and communications, the exploitation of natural resources, urban and rural planning, environmental policies, the development of tourism, uses of space, neighborship and belonging, etc.

Submission guidelines 

Please submit proposals in either French or English consisting of a short CV (max. 4 pages) and a paper abstract (1-2 pages). Send these materials

before September 30, 2016

to the following e-mail address: colloqueappropriations@gmail.com

A collective publication (an edited volume or a journal special issue) will be considered on the basis of the papers presented and discussed at the conference. 

Scientific and Organizing Committee

  • Charlotte Deweerdt, PhD Student, IREMAM
  • Aurélia Dusserre, Assistant Professor, Aix-Marseille Université / IREMAM
  • Didier Guignard, CNRS Researcher, IREMAM
  • Henri Médard, Professor, Aix-Marseille Université / IMAF
  • Christine Mussard, Assistant Professor, ESPE Aix-Marseille / IREMAM
  • Mehdi Sakatni, PhD Student, IREMAM
  • Iris Seri-Hersch, Assistant Professor, Aix-Marseille Université / IREMAM 

Organizing Institutions 

  • Institut de recherches et d’études sur le monde arabe et musulman ­­­­­- IREMAM (Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS UMR 7310) 
  • Institut des mondes africains - IMAF (Aix-Marseille Université, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, CNRS UMR 8171, IRD UMR 243, EHESS, EPHE) 

[1] See for instance R. Louis Gentilcore (ed.), Historical Atlas of Canada: The Land Transformed, 1800-1891, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993; James R. Akerman (ed.), The Imperial Map: Cartography and the Mastery of Empire, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2009; Hélène Blais, Florence Deprest and Pierre Singaravélou, Territoires impériaux. Une histoire spatiale du fait colonial, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2011.

[2] Alain Testart, « Propriété et non propriété de la terre. L’illusion de la propriété collective archaïque (1re partie) », Études rurales, 2003, n° 165-166, p. 209-242; Étienne Le Roy, La terre de l’autre. Une anthropologie des régimes d’appropriation foncière, Paris, LGDJ, Lextenso Editions, 2011, p. 13-37.

[3] The changing scope and pace of modern land appropriation has been analyzed by John Weaver, The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-1900, Montreal, McGill University Press, 2003, chap. 3.

[4] R. Louis Gentilcore (ed.), Historical Atlas of Canada, op. cit., p. 92-93.

[5] As does Camille Lefebvre, Frontières de sable, frontières de papier. Histoire de territoires et de frontières, du Jihad de Sokoto à la colonisation française du Niger, XIXe-XXe siècles, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2015.

[6] For a historiographical appraisal of the use of this approach in North American history, see John Munro, “Interwoven Colonial Histories: Indigenous Agency and Academic Historiography in North America”, Canadian Review of American Studies, 2014, n° 3, p. 402-425.

[7] On colonial India see for instance Vanessa Caru : « La fabrique du logement ouvrier à Bombay. Réalisations de l’État colonial et pratiques habitantes (1898-1926) », Histoire urbaine, 2007/2, n° 19, p. 55-76.

[8] In the past decade scholars of empire have devoted growing attention to the porosity of borders of all kinds between colonizers and colonized. See for instance Alison Holland and Barbara Brookes (eds.), Rethinking the Racial Moment: Essays on the Colonial Encounter, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.

[9] Charlotte Deweerdt, « Développement de l’assurance et du marché foncier à Alexandrie durant la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle », in Vanessa Guéno and Didier Guignard (ed.), Les acteurs des transformations foncières autour de la Méditerranée au XIXe siècle, Aix-en-Provence, Karthala/MMSH/IREMAM, 2013, p. 195-223.

[10] Arjun Appadurai, “The production of locality”, in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 178-199.

[11] Chris Hann (ed.), Property Relations: Renewing the Anthropological Tradition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Places

  • Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l'homme (MMSH) - 5 rue du Château de l'Horloge
    Aix-en-Provence, France (13)

Date(s)

  • Friday, September 30, 2016

Keywords

  • appropriation, espace, colonial, impérial, territoire, conquête, cartographie, frontières, droit, foncier, ressources naturelles, environnement, paysage, toponymie, travail, économie, tourisme, appartenance

Contact(s)

  • Iris Seri-Hersch
    courriel : iris [dot] seri-hersch [at] univ-amu [dot] fr

Information source

  • Iris Seri-Hersch
    courriel : iris [dot] seri-hersch [at] univ-amu [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Appropriating Space in Colonial and Imperial Contexts », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, https://calenda.org/371584

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