Connecting in Times of Duress: understanding communication and conflict in Middle Africa’s mobile margins
Communication Technologies are important connectors and form the ‘glue of society’. The research programme Connecting in Times of Duress takes these connectors as point of departure to get a deeper understanding of African societies under duress. Duress emerges in the context of prolonged crises and stands for the emic experience of such crisis. Societies under duress have to be very flexible and mobile in order to flee danger, to psychologically deal with oppression, violence and conflict. Duress generates specific forms of agency, ranging from repression, over resistance to apathy.
Connecting in Times of Duress (CTD) focuses on networks and on strings of people who navigate border areas and on networks that exist in relation to travelling institutions, like churches. The projects are situated in Middle Africa (Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Nigeria and northern Congo – DRC ), West Africa (Mali) and Europe (diasporas). The past and the present experiences of the strings of people we study have been replete with situations of conflict, displacement, mobility and navigation.
The study of connections will be the axis of all projects. For the full version of the (initial) research proposal (2012), click here.
How is the ongoing ICT revolution changing patterns of communication under duress? How do these changes shape relations at the level of:
- individual decision making and personal empowerment;
- emergence of new communities, reinforcement of belonging to existing or reinvented communities;
- renegotiations over power relations through collective and connective action and mobilization
How do changes in communication influence power relations and existing hierarchies by restructuring existing processes of in- and exclusion?
An important goal is to contextualise these seemingly ‘revolutionary’ and ‘new’ changes related to the introduction of new technologies in a historical longue duree perspective. The idea is to comparativelyanalyse how developments in mobile communication relate to older communication processes in the history of Middle Africa. We might question for example the extent to which the changes attributed to the mobile-phone revolution are comparable to the arrival of roads in the past?
The proposed sub-projects have been designed in such a way that they are comparative and complementary. They have a common methodology and cover the historical development of communication innovations which make it possible to compare between various types of relations between duress and ICT penetration. The findings will all engage with different levels of analysis, ranging from (1) individual ‘decision making’, (2) ‘community (re)building and consolidation’ and (3) collective action in order to understand changes in the new social and political ordering of the social fabric under duress.
The focus on connections will make the studies multi-sited, following people intheir geographical and communication itineraries. The basic methodology is historical-ethnography, including field observation and participation, interviews, life histories, film and visuals.