David Newman Glovsky
- Assistant Professor
- Boston University
Alternative Geographies: Mobility, Citizenship and Autonomy in a West African Borderland
Studies of African—and global—borderlands usually proceed by analyzing how borders and human mobility shape and are shaped by states. In Africa, most studies argue that mostly fluid and flexible precolonial ideas of territorial space were quickly replaced by Western conceptions. However, this research demonstrates the durability and adaptation of alternative, fluid geographies, grounded in borderland conceptions of space and place. Based on oral history and archival research in six countries, this study argues that borderland residents in four colonies/states—Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea—used fluid ideas of boundaries, citizenship, and community to build durable, cross-border networks. Using a variety of strategies tied to mobility, communities produced and reproduced their own territorial spaces, forged in the aftermath of colonial partition. This work is a sociocultural, economic, religious, and political history of these alternative geographies and communities, and their spatial relationship over several centuries, though primarily focused on the period from the 1860s to the present. These alternative or parallel geographies allowed West Africans to create a multinational space characterized by mobility, fluidity, and connectivity, selectively engaging with the official spaces of bounded nation-states.