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Dissertationsprojekt von Joachim Knab

‘Moving in Zig-Zag Ways’ – Rhythms, Practices of Timing and Orientations towards the Future in a Namibian Communal Nature-Conservation Site (working title)

Practices of nature-conservation in Southern Africa are oftentimes conditional to cooperation of actors who are linked across scales. For instance, ‘local’ agents engage with national and international representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations. It is assumed that in many of such encounters, ideas about the world and practices of dealing with it are negotiated, adapted, synchronized and sometimes they clash. On an ‘ontological’ level, nature-conservation is an ideologically loaded project based on a dichotomy of nature and culture, which is not shared by everyone. On a ‘practical’ level, nature-conservation efforts are typically implemented with methods of modern bureaucratic statecraft. These are not always compatible with practices of dealing with the world of, for example, subsistence farmers living in places ought to be ‘conserved’. Furthermore, it is presupposed that on the ontological level, ideas of time and the future and on the practical level, practices of dealing with time and the future potentially differ.

In my research I set out to test these assumptions in a case study and therefore I conducted ethnographic research in a nature-conservation site – the Salambala Conservancy located in the Zambezi region in north-eastern Namibia. Conservancies are nature-conservation areas according to the CBNRM-model (community-based natural resource management) most prevalent in Southern Africa. The self-proclaimed aim of CBNRM is to combine ‘nature conservation’ and ‘development of communities’, moreover, to hand power over natural resources to ‘the communities’ themselves.

The key questions of my project are:

  • To what extent are temporal frames of reference made compatible or at least resonant
    with one another through processes of standardization?
  • To what extent do they clash and remain incompatible - and what are the consequences for cooperation in land use?
  • To what extent is the assumption that futures are (man-)made and are to be
    controlled a Eurocentric bias that collides with other practices of dealing with the future
    that are premised on accepting the future or on adapting to it?

Following from my research, I intend to use Barbara Adam’s notion of “timescapes” (1998) to distinguish between separate but interwoven ‘rhythms’, ‘practices of timing’ and ‘orientations towards the future’ in the timescape of Salambala Conservancy and the timescape of life in a village inside the territory of the Conservancy. Though all residents of villages inside the territory of Salambala are supposed to be members and furthermore owners of the Conservancy, for most residents the Conservancy only played a minor role in their daily lives. Hence, I argue, for the most part agricultural practices and nature conservation practices coexist side by side in their respective timescapes. However, sometimes both timescapes overlap resulting typically in ‘moments of crisis’.

Works cited

Adam, Barbara (1998): Timescapes of modernity. The environment and invisible hazards. London, New York: Routledge.


Short Biography

After studying Social and Cultural Anthropology and Philosophy in Mainz and Bayreuth, I am now working on my PhD in Cologne as part of the CRC 228 “Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social- ecological transformation” and I am enrolled in the a.r.t.e.s. graduate school. Foremost I am interested in the manifoldness of everyday life and in anthropological key questions about what it means to be alive and in which ways we, as (human?/socio-cultural?/organic?/…?) beings, can and do exist in the world. Since studying in Bayreuth, I deal with the topic of nature-conservation on the African continent from a perspective which is nurtured by the absurdities surrounding the objects of nature-conservation. For some, ‘wild’ animals and ‘scenic’ landscapes represent remnants of a seemingly glorious ‘pre-modern’ past characterized by a state of ‘equilibrium’. In this imagination, ‘modern’ human beings are conceived of as ontologically different from their non-human environment and therefore potentially disturbing ‘nature’. Consequently, ‘conserving nature’ is sometimes equated with excluding humans from particular places, for example National Parks. However, some people living in such places do not share these ideas and some consider those, for instance, as their ancestral lands where they have a right to belong. Hence, nature-conservation areas are oftentimes sites of contestation where not only land(use)-rights, but also ontologies, conceptions of temporalities, as well as practices of relating to the environment are negotiated.

Therefore, I am foremost interested in the Anthropology of Human-Environment-Relations, Political Ecology, the Anthropology of Time, the Ontological Turn and Praxeology.

Contact: joachim.knab(at)uni-koeln.de


Cover photo: Sign pointing to a shop and guesthouse named “Just Imagine” in a village next to Salambala Conservancy. Picture by Joachim Knab. // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad.