WiSER invites applications for 8 Two-Year Postdoctoral Positions (2020-2022)

Regions2050: Mobile spaces, porous borders, and pathways of regionalization.

The research program includes 4 Clusters:
(1) Sahel/Sahara/Mediterranean;
(2) Congo Basin;

(3) Southern Atlantic/Indian Oceanic Africa;
(4) African Technoscapes.

 A candidate is only allowed to apply in one Cluster.

The deadline for applications is August 31, 2020.
Applications should be sent electronically to Najibha.Deshmukh@wits.ac.za

Results will be published on September 5, 2020.

Details attached here.

Thanks to generous funding from Carnegie Foundation (USA) and the Gerda Henkel Foundation

(Germany), WISER is launching a major interdisciplinary and multi-regional research program

called Regions2050: Mobile spaces, porous borders, and pathways of regionalization.

Coordinated by Professor Achille Mbembe, the Program includes 40 researchers and straddles

the traditional divide between Francophone, Anglophone, Arabophone and Lusophone scholarly

communities. It also transcends the divide between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa while

reconnecting the African continent to the Southern Atlantic and Indian Oceanic worlds.

This multi-regional research program’s goal is to unlock the paradoxes of regionalization in a

setting, the African continent, shaped by multiple porous borders and mobile spaces. Instead of

assuming that regionalization is tied to state territoriality, it examines the ways in which frontiers

and horizons – spatial, material, cultural and imaginary – are increasingly produced by the intersection of cross border flows, networks and informal institutions that are not delineated by states

only, but also by technological devices of all kinds and by movement as such.

The Program’s aim is to foster a new understanding of the ongoing geographies of regionalization that arise from: (1) the intensification of mobility, flows and circulation in a context of porous

borders, mobile spaces and technological transformations; (2) the accelerated extraction and use

of natural resources that has been taking place in Africa over the last century and a half, its historical pathways and the socio-ecological transformations it has unleashed; (3) the mutations in

causes of illness (epidemics and the increase of non-communicable diseases) and the way the crisis of climate is reshaping the human/ecological/environment relationships.

In this Program, the two concepts of the mobile space and porous borders serve as broad conceptual

indexes that will be used to distinguish between (1) different types of mobilities/circulation/speed

and different types of borders; (2) the cultural and institutional forms generated by such movements; and (3) the technological, ecological and spatial reconfigurations that arise in the context

of increasing informalization and transnationalization of life forms and processes.

We invite applications for 8 (eight) two-year postdoctoral positions. Each

fellowship will be funded up to R250,000 per year (medical insurance included), to which will be

added R10,000 for research. The successful candidates are expected to join the Institute in Johannesburg remotely in October 2020 and in person, subject to the pandemic crisis, from February 2021.

They will be expected to: (1) fully participate in the research program and in its publications; (2)

take part in the scientific events and other activities relevant to their research (advanced seminars, 

workshops, round tables, experimental syllabus); (3) produce 3 podcasts or op-eds per year; (4)

publish 1 peer-reviewed article and per year and (4) one final chapter to be included in an edited


We seek candidates with different skills and training backgrounds (including in health, natural

and environmental science and in technology studies) who are willing to work on highly innovative research projects (borders, mobility, speed, circulation of people, objects, ideas and technological devices, ecological transformations, regional transport systems, markets and small towns,

cross-border practices, media and digital corridors; cultural and literary scapes; logistics, multispecies interactions; health ecologies and pandemics; trans-regional extraction, enclaves and offshoring etc.).

Fellowships are opened to international candidates. African and diasporic candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.


Applications should include:

– A letter of motivation (2 pages maximum)

– A short CV (2 pages maximum)

– A highly innovative research proposal (4 pages maximum)

– A certified copy of the Ph.D.

– Two reference letters

– A written sample of academic work


The program runs from October 30, 2020 to October 30, 2022.


Applications should be sent electronically to: Najibha Deshmukh, Senior Administrator, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (najibha.Deshmukh@wits.ac.za)

The deadline for application is August 31, 2020. Results will be published on September 5, 2020.

The research program includes 4 Clusters: (1) Sahel/Sahara/Mediterranean; (2) Congo Basin;

(3) Southern Atlantic/Indian Oceanic Africa; (4) African Technoscapes.

A candidate is only allowed to apply in one Cluster.



The forces that define the contemporary condition as Anthropocene, such as global warming,

species extinction or pandemics, are more volatile, indeterminate and unpredictable because they

are planetary. In Africa in particular, these dynamics have unleashed new spatial reconfigurations.

They are reshaping internal and external borders while paving the way for novel forms of mobility and multiple speeds. In the process, old regional formations are remade and unmade while

new ones are emerging. Mapping these dynamics and their various determinants calls for an urgent reformulation of a whole set of assumptions, categories and concepts which have until recently served as the bedrock of scientific inquiries into local conditions.

| Sahel/Sahara/Mediterranean |

From a historical perspective, the Sahel, the Sahara and the Mediterranean form a single

space of movement which should be considered as a continuum. The Sahara in particular

should be seen as “the second face of the Mediterranean” and as such interpreted as a space of

connection rather than a space of insulation. Today, relevant parts of the trans-Saharan circulation are out of State control. Meanwhile, Europe is forcefully shifting its border management into

Sub-Saharan countries.

This Cluster will focus on these two mega-processes. Particular attention will also be devoted to the range of informal practices and commercial exchanges which perform connective

functions across this region. We will look into various ways in which the cross-border networks

revolving around specific connective sites and portals foster the emergence of new and unofficial

spatial orders. Markets in particular are critical in connecting small towns with their rural hinterlands. Rurally sourced goods flow through historically established small towns and regional markets to national and international markets. How are market places and networks created under

the new circumstances? What role do social networks play in their creation? To what extent their

creation and the way they operate is shaped by the hybrid forms of governance and the unfolding

dynamics of para-statehood or even statelessness?

The multiplicity of forms of mobility and circulation will be the other focus. Underlying

various modes of circulation are myriad forms of local and situated knowledge. How are they

constituted and transmitted, under what conditions are they deployed and with what effects?

How do routes and trails emerge and how are such habitual knowledge stabilized? What are the

interconnections and similarities between different forms of movement? What groups or communities propel what types of movements and according to the availability of what types of resources? To what extent is the alleged dichotomy of sedentary and nomadic mobility challenged

and combined with more open conceptions of space and place?

| The Congo Basin |

One of the largest ecoregions in the world, the Congo Basin constitutes a large portion of

Africa’s biodiversity and is shared by more than 7 territorial nations. With 300 million hectares of

land covered by tropical forests (99 percent of which is primary or naturally regenerated), it is the

second largest tropical forest area in the world. It is also the single largest peatland complex in the

world, storing a significant amount of forest carbon. The Congo Basin forests have, for centuries,

performed a significant role in the global carbon cycle (services such as flood control and climate

regulation at the local and regional level). The wealth of carbon stored in their abundant vegetation further serves as a buffer against global climate change.

The Congo Basin is also a unique freshwater ecosystem supporting hundreds of millions

of people in areas as diverse as the provision of food and materials or trade and exchange. It is

also a crucial part of regulating Earth’s water cycle. The Basin is among the three prominent

convective regions that dominate global rainfall climatology during transition seasons. A remote

sensing analysis of its forests reveals that the Basin is at a threshold as it experiences consistent

patterns of reduced vegetation greenness and decreased water storage. This hydro-climatic shift

is partly the result of extreme droughts, mechanized logging, rotational agriculture and expanding human activities.

In this Cluster, we aim to test the concept of eco- or biogeographic region. We intend to build

on the work that has already been done in by Earth science research to map the Basin’s forest and

water ecosystems. Using phenology patterns and light regimes derived from MODIS (Moderate

Resolution Image Spectometer), they have identified 8 distinct forest types, including mangroves

and swamps. These distinct forest types are important bio-physical barriers which have isolated

distinct species. But they also operate as nodes of connection which allow patterns of species coexistence to emerge. What this coexistence might entail for a multi species understanding of regionalization will be at the center of our inquiry.

We will also build on the work done on regional hydrology and hydrodynamics of the waters in the Basin, which shows the extent to which future climate change and land use are likely to

affect the overall C cycle of the Basin while increasing CO2 evasion. This will be mapped against

the various ways in which indigenous communities have developed a long and intricate relationship to natural ecosystems while deriving their livelihoods and essential natural resources from

this environment. In this Cluster, we will use a combined methodology: collection of new data

where it is possible, reworking and reinterpretation of existing data, conducting targeted research

in specific locations.

| Southern Atlantic and Indian Oceanic Africa |

Regionalization processes in Southern Africa will be placed within the broader Southern

Hemispheric context (South Atlantic and Indian Ocean in particular). With Eastern Africa,

Southern Africa is one of the two main maritime gateways to Asia. Furthermore, it is located at

the center of a chain that connects seas and continents while bridging the Atlantic and Indian

Oceans. To a large extent, these connections form a sub-global web that reflects unfolding shifts

in the pathways of globalization. This Cluster will examine how these shifts are currently perceived, understood and represented, the ways in which they work as a potential alternative to the

global North and how they enable the movement of people, goods and ideas.

Through careful descriptive and empirical research, we hope to show how these various

types of movements result in the creation of different types of places, boundaries and connec-

tions and networks, contributing therefore to original and at times unexpected modes of de facto

regionalization. Building on the distinction between several forms of movement or mobilities, we

hope to better understand the tensions and conflicting dynamics between local spatial strategies

based on circulation, routes and connections, networks and flows on the one hand, and on State

and elite-driven modes of regionalization whose main foundations are national sovereign territories.

| African Technoscapes |

This Cluster will mainly focus on two selected large technical assemblages in the domains

of health and environment across Africa and its regions. The two core assemblages selected for

scrutiny are quantification (or making of data) and satellite as well as drone imaging of the earth.

The Cluster will inquire into the ways in which the selected technological assemblages shape the

forms and practices of evidence-making in the domains of health and environment and thereby

deeply impact daily lives, governance and space-making. Inversely, the Cluster will examine how

the technologies in turn are shaped by their particular deployments and usages.

The Cluster will examine in detail how these two techno-scientific assemblages and their

methodologies contribute to re-define what health is about, how it is related to the environment

and how these re-definitions re-shape governance and the relation between techno-scientific

zones and political territories.

In order to deal with these questions, the Cluster will also keep an eye on the ways in

which the techno-scientific assemblages foster new forms and senses of individual and collective

identities, of belonging and of being in the world. With what myths, desires and symbolic and

financial capital are they imbued?

On a more abstract level, the detailed inquiries will be related to the following general

questions: What regimes of national and non-national sovereignty are they making possible?

What types of hybrid and connected spaces are they producing? What segregated and integrated

social worlds are they fostering? To what extent are they reconfiguring the regionalization processes of the continent? 

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