Concepts of space on the move


The modernization of transport and its contradictions

Transport routes and the transformation of rural livelihoods

Building spaces of communication

Concepts of space on the move

Movements and communications in academic inquiry

Conclusion: Insights gained through the Symposium

All understanding of how spaces are (re-)"made" by mobility the question addressed in the preceding section requires a look at the various kinds of goods and knowledge transported along the routes involved. However, there is also a need for an understanding of knowledge itself, as developed by the agents themselves to explain and conceptualize their movements, communications and locations in space. Session 6, entitled "Routes and Barriers: Constructions of Space on the Move", was specifically devoted to this question. The two papers by Achim von Oppen and Inge Brinkman presented in this Session drew the participants' attention back to a smaller, more "anthropological" scale of inquiry, concentrating on different stages of the 20th century. They were complemented in this issue by several papers presented at other sessions, such as that of Ana Paula Tavares on the construction of mutual ideas of the coast and the interior or the paper by Maria Emília Madeira Santos on the distinction between "paths" and "roads" in the colonial context (see above).

Achim von Oppen's contribution "Moving along, Moving across" explored popular ways of conceptualizing space around the upper reaches of the Zambezi river, an area that is now situated around the border between Angola and Zambia. Despite its remoteness, this area was and still is strongly connected by trade and migration to the economic centres of both countries. Movements rather than boundary-making have structured the inhabitants' everyday geographies throughout their history. According to their "mental maps", settlements and communications, social ties and political relations were and to some extent still are structured in linear, partly concentric, but hardly ever territorial terms. Watercourses, and more recently roads, represent the most important axes of orientation, defining proximity and distance, both spatially and socio-politically. Achim von Oppen, mainly using evidence from the British side, explored the clashes and interactions of these older conceptualizations of space, including the heavy-handed but often illusionary attempts of the colonial state to impose a territorial order of things from the "international" down to the very local level. He also pointed out, however, that local inhabitants were quick to appropriate these borders for themselves and to attribute them with different meanings.

Inge Brinkman, referring to the more recent era of the war of liberation, especially in northern Angola, concentrated on popular philosophies and interpretations of spatial mobility as such, where routes play a crucial role. In her paper on "Refugees on Routes. Congo/Zaire and the War in Northern Angola (1961-1974)" her perseverance with the study of "routes not only as realities but also as ideas" led her to deal with "different perceptions of road, trail, forest and bush and the various ways in which these are used". War a major topic throughout Angolan history was also a key motive for changes in transport and communication technology (see the contributions by Maria Emília Madeira Santos, Roquinaldo Ferreira and Emmanuel Esteves cited above). At the same time, war had an impact on how paths, roads and the landscapes they crossed were interpreted by their users. Topics such as the connection between roads and the colonial army; the struggles over these roads and the secret roads set up by rebel troops; the role of intelligence and guides; and movement control and forced resettlement, escape and exile, and the existence of a highly differentiated 'route vocabulary' were all used by Brinkman to exemplify her fruitful and multifaceted approach towards a more thorough understanding of mobility and violence. Her contribution made it clear, however, that even under extremely threatening physical conditions and forced removal, cultural constructions play a significant role in structuring movement and communication in space.

In the discussion on this session, it was recommended that a distinction should not only be made between the "local population" and the colonial regime, but also among Africans themselves. While part of them actively supported the war, others (e.g., certain Christian groups) clashed with the latter over their more peaceful attitude, and for this reason regarded the war as a very harsh experience.

Achim von Oppen and H.E. Alberto DC Bento Ribeiro
Achim von Oppen and H.E. Alberto DC Bento Ribeiro

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Latest revision: 08.03.2004