- Fellowship year:2009-2010
- University: Columbia University
- Dissertation Topic/Category: Africa
- Dissertation Title: Cheminots into Citizens: Labor, Migration, and Political Imagination along the Dakar-Niger Railroad, 1923-1974
This dissertation explores how people understood and articulated the limits of political communities along Dakar-Niger railroad in Colonial French West Africa and later in independent Senegal and Mali. The study uses oral histories of Cheminots (French: railroad workers) and their families as well as formal archives in Mali, Senegal, France, and Italy. With a debt to Henri Lefebvre’s concept of ‘social space’, it asks how people along the railroad built a community from their circuits between station towns, how they shared ideas across social and administrative barriers, and how, as workers and citizens, they negotiated the boundaries of their political imagination through periods of colonialism, decolonization, and postcolonial rule. The categories of political belonging that developed along the Dakar-Niger took advantage of the railroad’s ambiguous status within the residents, as Imperial subjects, and as national citizens.
Studying social and intellectual developments in the cities and towns along the Dakar-Niger recaptures a moment when workers, migrants, and local leaders enunciated their visions of political community in modern Africa. It provides an alternative perspective to statist narratives of politics in the region, but also considers why these visions were unable to be fully implemented.