Bigfooted border theories, barefooted border crossers
: rethinking resilience and security through the vernacular sense-making and practices of border communities across Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon

  • Dieunedort Wandji

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Through a conceptualisation of biplacement and a-statal actorness as tools for gleaning meaning of vernacular sense-making and practices of borderlanders, this PhD thesis explores the epistemological implications of borderlander’s standpoint on security and resilience in the postcolonial context of border areas across Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon. To examine how centring the experiences and sense-making of border communities can help rethink security and resilience, the thesis proposes an analysis that escapes the usually assumed dual performativity of the border. It questions dominant imaginaries of what the border means in concrete terms and what/where it means to be safe in the territorial margins of the nation-state. Its central argument is that the ways in which borderlanders engage the border space not only challenge and reshape the meaning of the post-colonial border, they also enable us to question universalised understandings of vulnerability and threat.
    The research is a multi-sited ethnographic study, with an analytical framework that gleans security meanings from borderlanders’ geographical imaginations and vernacular bordering practices. Based on the ethnographic in-depth investigation of 16 borderlanders, the experiences of border communities are foregrounded in the understanding of their socio-spatial environment through their narratives about themselves, the border space, and their fears. The study deploys a narrative approach both as a frame of reference and a way to present its fieldwork insights. In its methodology, the project weaves together vernacular security approaches and critical border studies, to inquire how an epistemology that centres borderlanders’ narrative agency contributes to unmuting the postcolonial border subject.
    In terms of contributions, the study highlights and assesses the impact of side-lining vernacular voices in the conceptualising the postcolonial African border space. It pushes the scholarship on borders forward by drawing and illustrating the epistemological implications of evaluating how border communities make sense of, perform, and mobilise their situated endeavours in common areas of the human condition, such as security and resilience. Most importantly, the thesis introduces the concepts of “biplacement” and “a-statal actorness” as tools for a granular empirical exploration of postcolonial borders. These novel concepts also help in mapping out vernacular entry points for alternative approaches to studying borderlanders, and perhaps designing better participatory border models.
    Date of AwardJul 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorOlivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa (Supervisor), Natalya Vince (Supervisor) & Tony Chafer (Supervisor)

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