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  • Introduction to Special Issue:Central Peripheries and Sliding Contexts: Absence and Marginality as Spaces of Emergence
  • Cristiana Panella (bio)

The social-anthropology approach to rural space has undergone major changes over the last twenty years, spurred by an agency-oriented approach to the landscape (Soja 1989; Ashmore 2002; Mather 2003). These changes have affected not only the conceptualization of space, but also interest in the cohabitation of a broad range of actors engaged in highly mobile activities, both internal and international (Amin 1995; de Bruijn, Van Dijk, and Foeken 2001; de Haan and Rogaly 2002). This new turn has led to a more comparative perspective on both local practices and their transnational effects.1 In particular, this trend toward increased mobility, conflict, and accommodation to change has included reexamination of the concept of limes (van Wolputte 2010), removed from both Frederick Jackson Turner's center-versus-periphery model (Turner 1893) and Igor Kopytoff's multipolar centers-versus-periphery model (Kopytoff 1987). Here, the limes is perceived and managed in a space increasingly marked by sharing and disputes, punctuated by dwindling resources and the accelerated monetarization of rural economies. Noteworthy studies include focuses on political war economies (Lawson 2003; Raeymaekers 2010; Renton, Seddon and Zeilig 2006), informal and illegal economies (Aning 2003; Ellis 2009; Ellis and MacGaffey 1996; Meagher 2003; Roitman 2003; Shaw 2002; Titeca and De Herdt 2010; Van Schendel and Abraham 2006), and the dynamics of indigenousness (Chauveau, Jacob, and Le Meur 2004) resulting from " 'bottom-up' regionalism" (Söderbaum and Taylor 2010), to mention only a few. The microhistory perspective in social history has furthered a view of the socially shaped African landscape as a shared commodified space (Flynn 1997; Chalfin 2001; Niger-Thomas 2001; Fold and Nylandsted Larsen 2008; Agergaard, Fold, and Gough 2010), as well as an arena for politics of authenticity (Schultz 2008).

In connection with these recent approaches to the dimensions of time and space, the present special issue offers an array of views on the limes, through center-and-periphery dynamics first approached by panels held at the triennial MANSA (Mande Studies Association)2 conference and the [End Page v] third biennial ECAS (European Conference on African Studies) conference.3 The aim of this cross fertilization was to qualify the vision of a structural urban-rural split by showing that the social dynamics of marginal contexts are not refracted reverberations of national policies, but rather, centers of change in their own right (Hanchard 1999; Leach 2003; Agegaard, Fold, and Gough 2010). A second aim is to show the exclusionary effects of national and international governance policies, as well as the new arenas of social production in marginal contexts and groups, along with the ensuing dynamics of belonging connected with those effects.

Searching for Gold on the Sankaran Border (Wasulu, Mali):Mingled Memories and Territoriality

The territorialization of the memory of gold in the Sankaran region on the Mali-Guinea border is revealing of the spatial and social memory stakes involved in negotiations around belonging in a context of political control of mobility and monetarization of the land. This region reflects the paradox of a buffer space both socially open and politically closed in notwithstanding which the limes dimension and its center-periphery variations are constantly reworked, between local perceptions and subregional relations, through the differential of management of the memory of gold. The history of settlement of the Wasulu region shows a continuous intermingling of populations, which can be pieced together, only partially, when traced back to the fourteenth-century Mande migration to the Sangha region (Bedaux 2003; Bedaux and van der Waals 2003). The political organization of Wasulu was based on hereditary chiefdoms, the kafow, subject to lineage-group conflicts, which broke them down regularly until the Fulani came to dominate in the nineteenth century and Samori's troops invaded the area (1881-1883). The proximity of such strong entities as the Segu kingdom, the Kabadugu, and the Futa Jalon considerably impeded the development of a centralized political power, while encouraging internal strife (Amselle 1985). Around 1800, the Diallo, Sidibé, Diakité, and Sangaré Fulani,4 chased by the slave-hunting jihad led by Omar Tall in the Futa Jalon (Klein 1998, 2003...


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