Accepted Paper:

Interpenetrations: recasting nomad tactics in the face of aggressive urban renewal in Nouakchott, Mauritania  


Christian Vium (Aarhus University)

Paper Short Abstract:

In this paper, I describe how ’sedentary nomads’ inhabiting the marginal areas of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, apply what I conceive of as increasingly subversive nomad tactics to creatively navigate aggressive urban renewal projects intended to ”clean-up” the so-called peripheral and precarious slum areas which encapsulate the original grid-structure of the city.

Paper long abstract:

Today, the densely populated slums of Nouakchott have become virtual theatres of speculation, as the state-owned land which people inhabit illegally becomes an increasingly valuable commodity in the wake of urban restructuration plans and vast infrastructural development projects. This paper shows how the figure of the 'sedentary nomad' constitutes the nexus in a dynamic and contested reconfiguration process of the urban landscape through a complex range of mobile 'poaching' tactics and anticipatory strategies. As such I present a 'nomadic reading' of large-scale urban renewal.

Over the course of five decades, the capital city of Nouakchott, which was constructed ex-nihilo in 1957, has exploded from 500 to 800,000 inhabitants - an urbanisation rate unparralled anywhere in the world. This paper explores how former livestock rearing nomads who inhabit - and thus produce - the dusty labyrinths of the kébé, i.e. bidonvilles or shanty towns, and the vast, windblown gazras, i.e. illegally inhabited areas, which encapsulate the original grid-structure of Nouakchott have reoriented their traditional nomadic strategies into a form of urban tactics (De Certeau 1984) that enable them to not only counter the aggressive urban renewal projects, but also to carve out a productive and in, its own subversive way, powerful space of living in spite of - or perhaps because of - the sedentary state. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2004 and 2011, I argue that the nomad, in fact, thrives in this interstitial space of immanent potentiality (Cresswell 1997; Deleuze & Guattari 2004).

Panel W078
Urban renewal, uncertainty and exclusion (EN)