Panel 6. Nomadic Minds

Chair: Mirjam de Bruijn
Elie Lewa Doksala – Du nomadisme à l’effort nouvel de mobilité
Catherina Wilson – Painting Knowledge, Writing Art
Boukary Sangaré – Les peuls et la crise au Centre du Mali : Entre adaptation et mutations sociales
Emmanuel Dabo – Côte d’Ivoire : le blogging pour surpasser la crise sociopolitique et médiatique
Esaïe Yambaye & Dieudonné Vaidjike – Vers une science plurielle ?

How flexible can a researcher be, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of being flexible? And where does the academic grounding of research become fluid because of its flexibility? What does the degree of flexibility tell us about relations in the field? And at the same time, how is this flexibility translated into a nomadic mind that searches contact and has a deep interest in the other, and shares his or her knowledge to survive academically?

The nomadic mind is flexible and dependent on the other. As the nomad wanders and roams, he or she needs to be connected to the other. That is what the presentation of Elie Doksala showed. This flexibility and relating of nomads was Mirjam’s inspiration to develop the idea of the nomadic mind. The flexibility and relating, but also the way the social life of the nomad is constructed: in interaction with the other. Boukary Sangaré’s presentation about the way he constructed knowledge in Central Mali, about the conflict, but probably more about the people who live through the conflict, is an example of the researcher’s adapting the nomadic mind and relating to the nomadic mind of his or her ‘informant’, the informant who then becomes a co-creator of social relations that produce knowledge. Catherina Wilson has taken co-creation to another level where she interacts intensively with an artist-painter in Kinshasa who she involves in her research as an alternative way to develop knowledge. He paints in a public domain a scene that she describes in her work. The reactions of the public create a new insight, but also the way the painter portrays it is a form of knowledge. The flexibility of the researcher also enters into the domain of flexible writing. Emmanuel Dabo showed that the genre of the blog is a form of writing that allows this flexibility. It is also a way to open to the public and get feedback that then informs the knowledge production process.

This panel gave insight into these different forms of co-creating that are at the basis of flexible knowledge production. The flexible mind of the researcher and the people with whom the researcher interacts needs to be discovered. Essaie Yambaye closed the session with his reflections on these mindsets. He also warned for the ‘danger’ to lose out on scientific rigour. Flexibility, however, is not ruleless, but instead, we need to rethink the rules of the academia to include other legitimate forms of knowledge production.

Report by Mirjam de Bruijn



Panel “Nomadic Minds”

In this panel we discuss and question the borders and demarcations between forms of knowledge production; between art and academic research, between producer and subject of knowledge production, and between co-creators with an eye for the dialectic processes that we recognize in the nomadic mind.

Hazan & Hertzog (2012) introduced the nomadic turn in anthropology: nomadism as a state of mind central to the understanding of the ethnographic enterprise. A nomadic mind is characterized by flexibility, adaptation to new circumstances, changing ideas, and constant flux. Theories are shaped by the environment they encounter. It turns knowledge production into a dialectic process between the ‘field’, the theory, and the observer. This resembles the artistic (non-linear) process in which the practice of creation is as much a part of knowledge production as the end product. How does this compare with our academic work, for example within the CTD programme, in which knowledge production has not been linear?

In this panel the process and dynamics of the nomadic mind are questioned in the context of the CTD programme. In our academic research on the field of duress the informant is in a way one of the central mediators of knowledge production. The informant becomes co-researcher and the researcher becomes co-informant; both are moulded in the process of knowledge creation in more or less conscious ways (Van der Geest, 2010). In the CTD programme this co-creation in flexibility and adaptability has been taken very seriously. We followed an almost phenomenological approach in which the dialectics of knowledge production sometimes confused or surprised us. How can this nomadic state of mind then be put to use effectively in academic research? How can a nomadic state of mind and the process of co-creation influence interactive publications, blogs, use of media as well as academic output? Can scientific work that we produce at the same time be artistic and is the artistic work at the same time scientific? Where do these different forms of knowledges meet? And how can they understand each other? And, not unimportantly, is the nomadic state of mind the ultimate key to understand and capture what duress entails for the individual? We invite papers reflecting on the process and dynamics of the nomadic mind.

Elie Dewa Doksala

From nomadism to new mobility effort
This communication focuses on a nomadic community, whose old ways of life have been disrupted by armed conflict. For the Wodaabe who lived in past crises, sedentarization means a break in communication between them and those who live far from them. But on the contrary, the case of our empirical observation among the nomads of Dourbali shows that, in truth, nomads adopt a new form of mobility which is derived from the crisis. The novelty is that they have the technological means to stay in touch, in order to keep some kind of social connectivity. Despite the crisis and the difficulties they are experiencing, they still try to stay connected, to remain true Wodaabés, thanks to mobile phones.
Based on this observation, we can maintain that there is no loss of their social network, and that network is maintained and usable thanks to the ubiquitous function of the mobile phone. The phone allows them to follow the same rules of society based on social communication. Indeed, thanks to the phone, they know exactly where every member of their family is. The people we have approached told us that being a Wodaabe means having close relationships with the family, and they can keep that relationship with the help of their mobile phones. Despite the sedentarization, they try to recover, to strengthen their social bonds thanks to the telephone.

Catherina Wilson (& Sapin Makengele)

Painting Knowledge, Writing Art
This paper is a reflection on methodology. Since the beginning of the project, I have (subconsciously) been looking for a methodology to understand and word what I do in the field. Throughout this trajectory, I have played with sensory and sensuous methods (Altork 2006, Pink 2009); I have experimented with emotions as a path towards understanding; and I have travelled not only as a means to get somewhere but rather as a method in itself (De Bruijn & Brinkman 2012, Schapendonk 2011). I have also walked the path of co-creation. Co-creation is not new (Fabian 1996). However, in recent years there seems to be a growing trend combining arts and academia in the process of knowledge creation/production (Rutten 2013, Battaglia 2014). Is writing insufficient in the social media age? Examples of artists working with researchers abound (De Boeck & Baloji 2016, De Bruijn & Lalaye 2016).
I opted for co-creation at different stages during my fieldwork. For instance, I followed and encouraged the recording of songs by a Centrafricain student-refugee in Kinshasa. Then again, I carried out interviews among the elderly in Libenge (North Congo) with a Congolese journalist. Finally, I worked together with the Congolese artist Sapin Makengele on two different (unfinished) projects. The first co-creation project with Sapin consisted of a one-week painting performance in Libenge inspired by the life story of Papa Henri (see picture). The second project is an ethnographic film (together with Sjoerd Sijsma) that touches upon the discrepancy between the movement across borders of African art objects, on the one hand, and African artists, on the other.
In this paper I will narrate my search for a fitting method. I will focus mainly, but not only, on co-creation. Based on ethnographic material I will examine co-creation as a process to produce knowledge. Focusing on the process, a critical reflection on the role of both creators stands central, does it change them? And if so, in what way? Is there an intrinsic fallacy related to a power imbalance? Can a nomadic mind really be achieved, or are there limitations? Last but not least, what about the output? How can other type of media (visuals, social media and the Internet) help the creators to present their work in a more inclusive manner?

Boukary Sangaré

The Fulani and the crisis in Central Mali: Between adaptation and social mutations
For almost four centuries, the Sahel region has been confronted with a multitude of ecological, economic, social and political crises. Like other parts of the Sahel, central Mali is suffering from climate change and the aftermaths of the drought that struck the region during the 70s and 80s. The consequences of these events have been the destruction of the livestock, the scarcity of natural resources, changes in the rain patterns, the disappearance of some animal species, social mutations, etc. The population growth rate of around 3 percent in the region is among the highest in the world and is exerting much pressure on natural resources (land, livestock, water, etc.), and leading to conflicts between sedentary and nomadic communities (De Bruijn & Van Dijk, 1995, Sangaré, 2010, De Bruijn & Sangaré, 2015).
As it turned out, the strategies developed by the Malian State in response to the crisis were inappropriate and inadequate. The Fulani pastoralists were kept outside what was to be the political and territorial management of the crisis during the implementation of decentralization in 1999, based on the law 96/059 of November 1996. Social cleavages and the concentration of power in the hands of some minority groups have further disadvantaged the Fulani pastoralists (Sangaré, 2013). The political and security crisis that broke out in the north of the country in 2012 has contributed to a growing insecurity in central Mali. This motivated the Fulani community to get involved in order to survive. That involvement took the form of jihadist movements and self-defence militias. Central Mali became the epicentre of the crisis due to negligence (Thiam, 2017, Sangaré, 2016, Interpeace, 2017).
On a conceptual and methodological level, since this panel looks at the relationship between the researcher and his informants and how the two can be mutually influenced, and at the same time influence the production of scientific data, we will illustrate this relationship through the story of our interaction with one of our key informants in Central Mali, Ahmadou. Ahmadou was our host during our research in the Hayre in 2009 and on many other occasions during the 2012 crisis. This gave us the chance to observe the changes occurring in his life. The advent of mobile phones (Sangaré 2010) and the occupation of the Hayre by armed groups (Sangare, 2013, 2016) have significantly changed the way Ahmadou thinks, relates and governs. To what extent did we also influence his life and vice versa? How should we perceive him in the production of our scientific data?

Emmanuel Dabo

Blogging as a means of overcoming the socio-political and media crisis (see powerpoint here)
In this paper, we explain the reasons why Ivoirians are increasingly taking ownership of the blogs and the use they are making of them in this West African country recovering from ten years of socio-political crisis (2002 – 2011). We will look at the trajectory of the bloggers in their quest for citizen information in a context of media crisis during which bloggers got closer to the people, which helped them tell the everyday life stories of these populations.
This was the case of Israel Guebo, who won the title of best francophone blogger in 2008, awarded by Deutsche Welle during the March 2009 Bobs (the blogs’ world cup) in Germany, and the Special Prize of the best Blog by a journalist from West Africa of the Panos Institute West Africa. He publishes on his blog articles describing the tourist attractions of his country (Welcome to Tanou Sakassou, a village of potters, and Assouinde Beach: make your experiences at the beach different), warning about potential risks (Another tragedy waiting to happen on the FHB Bridge in Abidjan), criticizing inadequacies (FHB University: Beautiful from the outside and school classes in the open air) and bringing the spotlight on those rejected by society (For the unassisted disabled people of Songon).
Based on the sociology of practices, we held a series of semi-directive interviews with a sample of 25 bloggers during our research toward a master degree in the Sciences of Information and Communication (SIC). In addition to the interviews, we analysed the blogs of all the bloggers surveyed. Next, we analysed the data collected during the interviews and on the blogs. The findings show nine reasons behind the choice of the Ivoirians to blog: Give their opinion on what is happening in Cote d’Ivoire; Share their experiences; Inform; Promote local specificity; Share their ideas and passions; Educate, train; Produce local content; Prepare a professional project; Earn money.
In Ivory Coast, the bloggers are not bound by any use imposed by technologies (technical determinism) but develop their own according to their needs and to the crisis situation in their country. The Ivorian crisis, partially socio-political, but above all media related was marked by the negative role played by (public, private and international) media and the many violations of freedom of speech (journalists and bloggers arrested).

Esaïe Yambaye & Dieudonné Vaidjike

Towards a plural science?
Our communication emerges from an interrogation concerning the methodological order of the sciences which seems to know another turn. In fact, science, like all disciplines, is based on the rules of art. Over the past two centuries, there has been a clear surpassing of its prerogatives. The most advanced argument is that transdisciplinarity must be pursued in order to better deal “scientifically” with the problems on the agenda. But instead of sticking to this vision, some scientists go so far as to incorporate the domains formerly considered as being outside the domain of science, such as art, journalism, and politics. Ultimately, unqualified individuals may declare themselves contributors of scientific production in areas that are unknown to them. Is not this turning a danger to the logic of rigorous sciences? Is not the scientist breaking the esoterization of science?