Ref.: PTDC/AFR/098339/2008

Funding institution(s): FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia

Keywords: borders, ethnic groups, identity, cross-border relations


African borders and ethnic identity in Africa have always been central in the academic debate. Critical analysis on ethnic identities in Africa – Amselle and Mbokolo – as well as in-depth analysis of border issues in Africa – Asiwaju, Herbst and Nugent – place the debate at a high importance level. This is due not only to the conflict character that ethnic identities pose to national boundary management and state sovereignty but also to the changes that are taking place in several African contexts, in which the role of globalisation and transnationalism is central. The main objective of this research project is to analyse the relationships between (partitioned) ethnic groups, within them and with other social actors – namely the state and administrative institutions – in specific African border contexts. It intends contributing to the increase of knowledge regarding ethnic identity and changes taking place in these locations (Angola/Namibia, Senegal/Guinea-Bissau, and Ethiopia/Eritrea), to the identification of social actors’ strategies and relationships in general and how are they affected and moulded by the ethnic identities.

The senior team members have all done research in border regions in Africa on different – tough related – subjects and now intend to focus their research on trans-boundary ethnic identity. This will not only contribute to continue and deepen this area of knowledge in the field of social sciences and African Studies, but also to the enlargement and intensification of research on borders in the continent in a comparative fashion. Important to this, is the integration of the research in the African Borderlands Research Network (ABORNE), which will provide the basis for information exchange, joint publications, and comparative material. The integration in the team of three post-graduate students (one of them PhD candidate and the others Master students at different stages of their work) will be critical for the enlargement of the group focusing on these subjects as well as for the production of new research materials and outputs.

The methodology is substantially qualitative, based on empirical data collected through fieldwork in the border sites (interviews, surveys, observation) and will be supported by thorough literature review, including the colonial archives and other existing documentation. Researchers will agree on social actors’ relevant typologies for the research, common interview guides, and define key-informants. In the first moment of fieldwork, the researchers will apply fieldwork instruments agreed upon and, in the second, they will verify missing information and lead the audiovisual material collection work. This latter will allow the production of a documentary, which has a high potential for disseminating research results for specialised and broader audiences and serves as an appealing information archive. Other typically academic products – scientific papers, conference communications and a book – will also be made available and constitute major output objectives of the project. Both documentary and written/presentation materials will be shared through the ABORNE network in order to expand the knowledge in this area of studies and to prepare other future essential research.

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