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PhD student in Geography on "Nature as a Heritage from Below in West African Cities" (M/F)

This offer is available in the following languages:
Français - Anglais

Date Limite Candidature : vendredi 25 juin 2021

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General information

Reference : UMR8586-EMIGUI-001
Date of publication : Friday, June 4, 2021
Scientific Responsible name : Christine Raimond
Type of Contract : PhD Student contract / Thesis offer
Contract Period : 36 months
Start date of the thesis : 1 October 2021
Proportion of work : Full time
Remuneration : 2 135,00 € gross monthly

Description of the thesis topic

The candidate's doctoral research project will be part of the ANR JCJC INFRAPATRI programme. "The project will be hosted from March 2021 to February 2025 by the UMR Prodig and coordinated by Emilie Guitard (CNRS/Prodig), with the support of Christine Raimond (CNRS/Prodig). The PhD candidate will be hosted jointly by the Prodig research unit and the French Research Institute in Nigeria (IFRA Nigeria) and will conduct comparative social science field research on the processes of (infra)patrimonialisation of plant elements in two West African cities, one Anglophone and the other Francophone.


The interdisciplinary INFRAPATRI project aims to understand the knowledge and forms of attachment to plants in four sub-Saharan African cities (Yaoundé in Cameroon, Ibadan in Nigeria, Porto-Novo in Benin and Dakar in Senegal), which together constitute an 'infra-heritage' produced by city dwellers on the fringes of institutional heritage processes, whether or not it is recognised, and which often remains implicit.
The processes of patrimonialisation in cities of the global South are still little studied (Calas, Marcel, Delfosse, 2011) and mainly from the point of view of globalised institutions (Gravari-Barbas, Jacquot 2013). Existing studies do not make much mention of alternative heritage dynamics (Cousin, Mengin, 2011), which are based on a memorial relationship between city dwellers and certain places and are often ignored by public authorities. By mobilising the notion of 'infra-heritage', we propose to study this relationship in four sub-Saharan African cities. In each of these cities, the analysis of memorial narratives and urban practices in relation to urban vegetation allows us to identify the conditions of existence, transmission and possibly recognition of these infra-heritage forms, in relation to the processes of institutional heritage that generally concern the built environment, particularly colonial. The vegetation in the city, which covers multiple features (plants, trees, woods and forests) and spaces (gardens, parks, cemeteries, roadsides, riverbanks, wastelands, fields, nurseries), is nevertheless the subject of various uses (subsistence, land marking, ritual practices, health care, etc.) based on knowledge of a practical nature - ecological, culinary, medicinal - or more symbolic - ritual or political (Juhé-Beaulaton, 2009, Bondaz, 2011, Myers, 2016). This knowledge and use are part of diverse communities, based on family, ethnic identity, religion, neighbourhood, profession, or political representation (Ernstson and Sörlin, 2019, Landy et al., 2017). Identifying and understanding them allows us to grasp popular conceptions of the past and the processes of memory and transmission (Benoît, 2000), in relation to urban space and the construction of the urban self (Dorier-Apprill and Gervais-Lambony, 2007).


The thesis will focus on understanding the mechanisms of (infra) patrimonlialisation of plants in the two cities selected for the survey. The doctoral student will conduct her/his research at the interface between, on the one hand, knowledge on urban biodiversity and the daily interactions of different categories of city dwellers with plants in the city and, on the other hand, the institutional initiatives of patrimonialization taking them as object. Particular attention will thus be paid to the interplay of scales and the power relationships that run through the (infra)patrimonialisation processes of urban plants, from the local (the home, the vicinal public space, the neighbourhood) to the international (embodied by major heritage bodies such as UNESCO and development institutions such as AFD), via the municipal and national levels. From this point of view, it will be necessary to examine the mobilisation of concepts such as "sustainable city" and/or the identification of tourism as both a development issue and a tool for the conservation of vegetation identified as urban heritage by the actors of institutional patrimonialisation. The candidate will also evaluate the reception of these initiatives of institutional patrimonialisation of the urban vegetation by the city dwellers, with regard to their daily relations with it. In this sense, we could, for example, be interested more particularly in the ritual dimension of these relationships (altar trees, sacred forest, woods sheltering small African churches, etc.), in the artistic projects using them as objects (street art exhibitions based on nature in the city, sites hosting monumental works such as the sacred forest of Osogbo, in Nigeria, etc.) and/or in the ecological value attributed to certain elements or plant spaces in the city, as reserves of biodiversity and tools for mitigating global warming.

Fieldwork and approaches

In order to understand two contrasting historical contexts, the fieldwork for the comparative study in this thesis will be located in Anglophone and Francophone West Africa, with a preference for the countries studied within the framework of the project INFRAPATRI (Benin, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal). The field work, which can mobilise different social science methodologies (ethnography - observation, open interviews, etc.- ethnoscience, statistical analyses, geolocalised cartographic surveys, nethnography, archival research, etc.) will have to combine primary data collection (from different categories of city dwellers and institutions in charge of the management of natural elements in the city and urban heritage, at different scales from local to international) and secondary data collection (in local or international archives, from municipal services and conservation institutions, in the local and international press, online, etc.). The methodology implemented will thus make it possible to highlight the power relationships between actors at the different levels, which "invisibilise" or highlight certain values and practices of plants in the city, as well as the complementarities and conflictualities between the different processes of "bottom-up" or institutional ("top-down") patrimonialisation.
The approaches will come from the fields of urban political ecology, urban studies, the relationship between human societies and their environment, and research on the processes of territorialization and (infra)heritage.



Benoit C., 2000, Corps, jardins, mémoires, Chemins de l'Ethnologie, Editions du CNRS, Paris
Bondaz, J., 2011, « Parcs urbains et patrimoine naturel en Afrique de l'Ouest. De la période coloniale au cinquantenaire des Indépendances », Géographie et cultures, 79 : 67-87
Calas B., Marcel O., Delfosse C., 2011, « Patrimonialisations en Afrique », Géographie et cultures, 79, 5-10.
Cousin S., Mengin C., 2011, « Porto-Novo, Bénin. Une patrimonialisation contrariée ? » In M. Vernières, Patrimoine et développement. Etudes pluridisciplinaires, Gemdev-Karthala, Paris : 111-136
Dorier-Apprill, E., Gervais-Lambony, P., 2007, Vies citadines, Belin, Paris
Ernstson H. et Sörlin S., 2019, Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies, Mit Press, Cambridge
Gravari-Barbas, M., Jacquot, S., 2014, « Patrimoine mondial, tourisme et développement durable en Afrique : discours, approches et défis », Via, 4-5 : 43-67
Juhé-Beaulaton D., 2009, « Un patrimoine urbain méconnu. Arbres mémoires, forêts sacrées et jardins des plantes de Porto Novo (Bénin) », Autrepart, 3: 75-98.
Landy, F., et al., 2017, "Les espaces protégés urbains, vecteurs de justice ou d'injustice pour les populations autochtones? Les cas de Xochimilco et des parcs nationaux de Mumbai et du Cap", Justice spatiale/spatial justice, 11, http://www.jssj.org/article/les-espaces-proteges-urbains-vecteurs-de-justice-ou-dinjustice-pour-les-populations-autochtones-les-cas-de-xochimilco-et-des-parcs-nationaux-de-mumbai-et-du-cap/
Myers G. A., 2016, Urban environments in Africa. A critical analysis of environmental politics, Bristol Policy Press, Bristol

Work Context

In the framework of the Prodig research unit, the subject will be particularly inserted in the INFRAPATRI programme, in which the two thesis supervisors and members of Prodig are strongly involved. The doctoral student will participate in the exchanges of the INFRAPATRI team at its different stages, from the elaboration of the state of the art and the investigation protocols to the analysis and presentation of his/her thesis results in the framework of the programme. The candidate will also benefit from the methodological and logistical support of the researchers involved in the two chosen sites, as well as from the support of the programme's research team in terms of analysis, allowing him/her to contribute and develop his/her own original results within the framework of his/her thesis. The aim is to document more precisely the institutional processes (at the municipal, national and international levels) of the patrimonialisation of plants in two cities in sub-Saharan Africa, and to cross-reference these processes with their reception by the different categories of city dwellers interacting with these elements on a daily basis. In this sense, the proposed doctoral subject is complementary to the work undertaken in the INFRAPATRI programme, where it will find both its autonomy within a team work on info-heritage in African cities. It is also part of two research themes of the Prodig research unit: the 2nd theme, on 'Metropolisation, Circulation and Urban Dynamics', and the 3rd theme, devoted to 'Environmental Changes and Social Issues'.
Within IFRA Nigeria, the doctoral student will carry out his/her research in the "Urban Governance" and "Environment" themes, which have been developed for a long time within the Institute. He/she will also fully participate in IFRA's activities in terms of training young Nigerian researchers in humanities and social sciences and in the organisation of scientific events (study days, seminars, colloquia, etc.) related to its research themes. Thus, while benefiting from easier access to his/her fieldworks in West Africa and becoming part of the Nigerian and French research networks, the doctoral student will be able to acquire valuable experience and skills in the field of research facilitation and administration, within the framework of a caring and human-sized academic institution.

Constraints and risks

The PhD will start in October 2021 and end in September 2024. The research will alternate between Prodig research unit in Aubervilliers, France, and IFRA Nigeria in Ibadan, Nigeria, from where the PhD student will be able to carry out several long-term research missions in the two fields of investigation in West Africa (minimum one month per mission). Over a period of 3 years, 18 months will be spent abroad, including a minimum of 6 months at IFRA Nigeria.

The stays at IFRA Nigeria, as well as on the PhD student's research sites in West Africa, will be organised in consultation with the CNRS Security and Defence Officer and the French embassies, in order to respect the security regulations in force in each country.

Additional Information

The candidate should have a research Master's degree in geography. The position requires field research experience in social sciences, preferably in West Africa. Good scientific knowledge of urban, patrimonialisation and ecological dynamics on the African continent is expected. In addition, the candidate must be fluent in French and English, both written and spoken. As the candidate will be working in a multidisciplinary and international team in different contexts, interpersonal skills and adaptability will be particularly appreciated.

Applications should include a research proposal of maximum 5 pages, a detailed CV, a one-page cover letter, a one-page summary of the Master's thesis and the Master's grades.

The deadline for applications is midnight on 25 June 2021.

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