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Living the Sine-Saloum Delta: rhythm and practice between wet and dry

This research will inquire the embodied and emplaced practices of Delta-dwellers' living with/in and dealing with the Sine-Saloum Delta (Senegal) in the context of a volatile ecology and sociality that asks for flexibility, improvisation and creativity from those who engage with it and questions our concepts of resilience and adaptation. 


The Sine-Saloum Delta is a so called hypersaline inverse estuary where saltwater flows far and increasingly inland, due to logging of mangrove forests, sea level rise or changing rainfall patterns. This again entails salinization, siltation, subsidence, erosion as well as freshwater shortage and poses familiar and new challenges for its inhabitants (mostly Serer Niominka in the northern part and Soce Mandinka in the southern part) who have engaged with both the delta's changing soil and water for centuries. 


Understood as a meshwork of hydrosociality, the Sine-Saloum Delta is constituted and undergoes an incessant re-configuration along the frictions and resonances of social practices and discourses, environmental processes as well as technological and political-economic forces – such as saltwater intrusion, the respective mitigation-infrastructuring, (self-) governances of extraction and trade, narratives around autochthony and belonging, or work and mobility co-rhythmed by tides and seasonality. 


My study accesses this meshwork with a distinct focus on work practices and through the analytic lens of rhythm. It aims at bringing together anthropological thinking about work with the thinking about human-environmental/non-human relations.


To inquire how Delta-dwellers' attend to and engage with the Delta's diverse rhythms and how they negotiate volatility in both temporal and spatial dimensions, I will follow an object and at the same time living being – the all omnipresent mollusc, composed of shell and animal. Molluscs (mainly cockles, oysters and various snails) have been used by and influenced the lives of the delta dwellers for millennia and co-created the deltas bio-physical set-up, for example in the form of middens. Nowadays, people engage with them mainly through gleaning, manufacturing, consumption, trading and governing. Furthermore, the shell is used for roads, dams, houses, jewellery, amulets and, until recently, pottery, thus also mediating everyday practices and basic needs. 



In my project, I will follow and attend to the human-mollusc-environment interactions and will inquire their material, economic and political as well as their experiential, symbolic-semiotic and social-environmental dimension. I will do so through an ethnographic approach grounded in thick participation, i.e. apprenticeship and practice, conversation and observation, lived experience and sensuous research (Spittler 2001), including go-along (Kusenbach 2003) and accompanied by semi-structured interviews and secondary data. 


This sub-project is run by Sandro Simon. He formerly focused on the Tana Delta (Kenya) but had to cease research due to security concerns.