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Comparative Deserts Conference - Day 2

Fri, May 21st, 2021
10:00 am
- 5:00 pm

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Deserts have long acted as spaces of political tension and asymmetrical power, functioning as testing grounds for nuclear weapons, zones of indefinite detention and death, spaces of ecological disaster, and sites of geopolitical threat. The desert today continues to evoke problematic imaginaries of narcotraffickers, “illegal” immigrants, smugglers, and Islamist militias, images that have prompted justifications for policing, securitization, gridding, exploiting, and even (re)fertilizing projects in this supposedly dead space. Most recently, the flow of sub-Saharan African immigrants out of “desert space” into European territories has led many Western commentators to interpret current migrant patterns as a type of ‘encroachment’ of the Sahara, a socio-political desertification that has placed this vast land at the center of Europe socially, politically, and culturally. Yet such dialogues collectively eclipse deeper connections and exchanges that have taken root between desert inhabitants for millennia and have ignored the interplay of imperialist agendas, venture capitalist initiatives, and necropolitics (Mbembe) in the desert that have long shaped the cultural and socio-political contours of this landscape as a real and imagined space. This two-day conference, which runs on May 20-21, 2021, aims to open “the desert” up for robust comparative discussions about desert spaces across the world and across different media and modes of representation.

This virtual conference is funded by a grant from the Global Initiative Fund.  Link to full program.


Chair: Michelle Apotsos, Associate Professor of Art, Williams College

  • The Sahara as Infrastructure Zakia Salime, Rutgers University
  • Between Rivers and Mountains: Strata of Movement in the Deserts of North America Andrea Garcés Farfán, Freie Universität Berlin
  • A Virtual Oasis for Desert Infrastructure: Afghanistan’s Internet Age Hannah Ahlblad, University of San Francisco
  • Importing the Desert into the Urban: The Architectural Narrative of National Museum of Qatar Ali A. Alraouf, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar

10 a.m. – 12 p.m. E.S.T. DESERTS AND OCEANS     Zoom Link

Chair: Benjamin Twagira, Assistant Professor of History, Williams College

  • Harmattan Wind as Decolonial Morphology May Joseph, Pratt Institute
  • Dissolving into the Sea: Cinematic Migrants and the Problem of Agency Nataša Kovačević, Eastern Michigan University
  • Border Forensics Charles Heller, Graduate Institute, Geneva Lorenzo Pezzani, Goldsmiths University
  • Water Necropolitics Edwige Tamalet Talbayev, Tulane University

1 p.m. – 3 p.m. E.S.T.  FROM THE RIVER TO THE DESERT  Zoom Link

Chair: Gail Newman, Chair of Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures & Cultures and Harold J. Henry Professor of German

  • Desert Edges: Aswan’s Twentieth-Century Necropolis Nancy Y. Reynolds, Washington University
  • A Desert of Milk & Honey: Conceptualizing the Naqab in the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Calvin Harrison, University of Birmingham
  • Oceanic Sahara: Extreme Settler Colonial State-Making in the Canary Islands Eda Pepi, Yale University
  • Mobilizing the Desert Frontier in Contemporary Egypt: Metabolic Flows along the Cairo-Red Sea Highway Tamer Elshayal, Harvard University Vanessa Lehmann, Goldsmiths, University of London


Chair: Amal Eqeiq, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Williams College

  • Making Visible-the Desert as the Green Screen Shuruq Harb, Artist
  • Odette du Puigaudeau and Marion Senones: Gender bending and Colonial Conquest Paraska, University of Pennsylvania
  • Trans-Saharan Blues in Morocco Jamie Fico, Syracuse University
  • Flattened–How I nearly died on the Columbian Plateau Eric LoPresti, Painter
  • Resistance Sahara Sidal Erguder, Filmmaker

3:30 – 5 p.m. E.S.T. Concluding Remarks from Panel Chairs/Discussion between Panelists   Zoom Link

Moderated by Kashia Pieprzak, Professor of Francophone Literature, French Language, and Comparative Literature, Williams College

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