Hut-like stations and station-like huts: the familiar aesthetics of research for development in Niakhar
Ashley Ouvrier (University Paris Diderot/Inserm/IRD)
Noémi Tousignant (University of Cambridge)
Aïssatou Mbodj-Pouye (CNRS)
Paper short abstract:
We explore the projected aesthetics and affective memories of postcolonial Franco-African research-for-development through three sets of huts (cases) built by scientists in a rural area in central Senegal (Niakhar).
Paper long abstract:
In Niakhar, a small area in the heart of Senegal's groundnut basin, locals and foreigners have been interacting as scientific workers and subjects since the early 1960s. Huts (cases) built by scientists are the focus of contested memories and ideals of Franco-African research-for-development as it has unfolded over the past half-century. As crucial sites for navigating long-term scientific sociability, these "homes for science" elicit reflection, now and in the past, on the proper relationship between familiarity, knowledge and development; on how French and Senegalese researchers can work with Senegalese fieldworkers and inhabitants to accurately and ethically produce knowledge, and on what projected futures and legacies research should create and leave in Niakhar itself. The huts of the research station, built only after two decades of scientific activity in 1981, and those put up previously by an individual French researcher, are spaces in and for which rules of intimacy are asserted and contested, and its affective and epistemological traces are described and debated. Their emplacement and aesthetic, and the use of the term "cases" (loosely translated as 'hut') to describe them, conjures an ethics of research based on recognition of and respect for the "local." Yet memories and accounts of these huts elicit a range of emotions; from nostalgia to outrage, mockery and genealogical pride. Our paper examines how these both assert and question the extent to which local intimacies can and should be a condition for the production of knowledge and for development.
After development: critical aesthetics of past futures