The arts of citizenship: a new edited volume on contemporary Senegalese urbanity

The conference-and-publication machine continues to run well (see my post about conferences and proceedings). In this most recent case the conference, on The Art of Citizenship in African Cities, was held at Columbia University (May 2011) but my presentation was published in French, by Karthala, the premier French publisher of African Studies.

Arts de la citoyenneté au Sénégal-cover2I want to thank both Mamadou Diouf and Rosalind Fredericks for the hard work of organizing the conference and for editing the resulting books. In fact, two edited volumes came out of this conference; one in English covering cases and issues across the continent and this second one in French concentrating specifically on Senegal (why is Senegal the object of such an inordinate amount of social science research? I should have asked professor Diouf this question when I met him in New York City two years ago).

My presentation at the conference was not entirely new in content. I presented an argument about the pénc-and-grid model of urban design which I had previously presented in Berlin in 2009, and which was published in an English edited volume just last year (see this post about Prayer in the City). In fact, I had presented the argument even earlier, in an article entitled “Marabout Republics Then and Now,” published in a peer-review academic journal in 2002. Historical data for the original article had been obtained almost exclusively from textual sources as I had not yet visited the historic sites I discussed and I could not afford the expensive satellite imagery necessary to verify part of the hypothesis. Since then, Google Earth has uploaded a vast amount of relevant high-resolution imagery which I have put to very good use.

The argument, illustrated with maps, goes as follows:

Diakhao was capital of the kingdom of Sine from the mid-16th century until the 1880s. It has a grid plan and is centered on a public square with the royal residence to the west. I based this map on current satellite imagery (thank you Google Earth for making this freely available).

Diakhao (above) was capital of the kingdom of Sine from the mid-16th century until the 1880s. It has a grid plan and is centered on a public square (the pénc) with the royal residence to the west. Royal capitals across Senegambia seem to have had similar pénc-and-grid plans.

Ngalick (above) was established as a Muslim clerical center in the 17th century. It too has a grid plan and pénc, though the latter is no longer in the center of town. I argue that ancien régime clerics adopted this urban design from the secular seats of power around them.

Ngalick in Kayor (above) was established as a Muslim clerical center in the 17th century. It too has a grid plan and a pénc, though the latter is no longer in the center of town. I argue that ancien régime clerics adopted this urban design from the secular seats of power around them.

Taïf is a Murid town created ex nihilo in the 1940s. Like nearly all the establishments created by Senegal's Sufi orders, it hasa grid plan and is centered on a pénc, with the sheikh's residence on the west side. The Sufi orders universalized the indigenous urban planning practice which, in pre-colonial times, had been the preserve of elite settlements.

Taïf (above) is a Murid town created ex nihilo in the 1940s. Like nearly all the establishments created by Senegal’s Sufi orders, it has a grid plan and is centered on a pénc, with the sheikh’s residence on the west side. The Sufi orders universalized the indigenous urban planning practice which, in pre-colonial times, had been the preserve of élite settlements.

The value of my contribution to the book announced in this post is that I am presenting the argument in French for the first time, and thus addressing myself to a different readership than the one reached through the English version noted above.

As discussed in my previous post on recent translation work, I have mastered neither the art nor the science of translation. Whereas, when push comes to shove, I can just about adequately manage French-to-English translation, my attempts at English-to-French translation have all been quite disastrous. I was very happy therefore to turn the initial task of translation over to a professional, Mrs. Fatiha Jillali Monette. Once she had done the hard leg work I was able to play around with the French text.

This is not the first time that I publish the same piece of research twice, once in English and again in French. I find I gain from this bilingualism. Each language imposes its own manner of presenting an argument. This forces me to fundamentally rethink the data and the analysis during the translation process, which is salutary in itself. Mostly though, the intended readership in each language is rarely the same. The a priory knowledge and understandings of one readership cannot automatically be assumed of the other. This too forces me to rethink much of the text. Because of this, the translation of my own research write-up affords the opportunity for a rethink as well as a rewrite, which is good for science.

Bibliographic information

  • Ross, Eric (2013). “Les places publiques (pénc) et la configuration des communautés.” In Les arts de la citoyenneté au Sénégal : Espaces contestés et civilités urbaines. Edited by Mamadou Diouf & Rosalind Fredericks, Paris: Karthala.
  • Ross, Eric (2012). “Building Community: Configuring Authority and Identity on the Public Squares of Contemporary Senegalese Sufi Centers.” In Prayer in the City: The Making of Muslim Sacred Places and Urban Life. Edited by Patrick Desplat & Dorothea Schultz, Transaction Publishers; New Brunswick N.J. & Transcript Verlag; Bielefeld.
  • Ross, Eric (2002). “Marabout republics then and now: configuring Muslim towns in Senegal.” In Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara, #16.
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About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in cities, conferences, map work, publication, shrines and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The arts of citizenship: a new edited volume on contemporary Senegalese urbanity

  1. Pingback: Teaching a seminar on contemporary Senegalese Sufism | Eric Ross, academic

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