Gabriella Körling, PhD, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University

Waiting for the railway: Infrastructure, mobility and trade at a West African crossroads

In 2014, the construction of Niger´s first railway was announced. The railway would provide the landlocked country with a direct connection to the coast and to the maritime port of Cotonou (in Benin).This study takes the railway line as an entry point for exploring political and historical processes in relation to infrastructure and mobility in a small town situated alongside the future railway tracks. The study has two interconnected main entry points. Firstly, the analysis of the history and politics of the railway project including an exploration of official narratives and public representations. Secondly, the will analyze the significance of mobile practices (and various forms of connections) for livelihoods. The project will thus study both the extent to which the railway will actually affect and change patterns of mobility and trade on a practical everyday level as well as the symbolic impact of the railway project on imaginaries of anticipated connections to other places as well as flows of goods and economic capital.

By scrutinizing the construction and imaginations of the railway, the study takes its theoretical inspiration from an emerging anthropological literature on infrastructure (Larkin 2013) in which infrastructures (roads, water and electricity provision, communication networks etc.) are analyzed in relation to cultural meanings and social practices. The study also engages with literature that sees connectivity and mobility as key to understanding contemporary Africa including small towns. Infrastructure such as railways facilitates the circulation of goods and people and connects often distant places. However (less visible) connections are also formed through everyday practices of mobility. The project sets out to explore these different forms of connections that are created through large scale infrastructure such as the railway and through the historical and contemporary movements of people.

Gabriella Körling holds a PhD in cultural anthropology from Uppsala University. Her research interests concern the state, urban anthropology, politics and decentralization in Niger, and more recently in Mali. Her Ph.D. dissertation is entitled In Search of the State: An Ethnography of Public Service Provision in Urban Niger (2011). She is currently a researcher in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University.

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