All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

by Vincent Battesti

“Why should I go to see from above things I already know from below?”, Centralities and circulations: To understand the use of spaces in the oasis of Siwa.

 Original title:
« Pourquoi j’irais voir d’en haut ce que je connais déjà d’en bas ? » Centralités et circulations : comprendre l’usage des espaces dans l’oasis de Siwa, Égypte/Monde Arabe, Terrains d’Égypte, anthropologies contemporaines, n° 3, 3e série (V. Battesti & N. Puig eds), 1er semestre 2006, p. 139-179.
Published in Jan. 2007.
ISSN: 0752-4412
DOI: 10.4000/ema.2893
PDF File:

 See the page dedicated to this Égypte/Monde arabe issue: Fieldworks of Egypt, Contemporary anthropologies.

This article deals with the spatialities (the space — the spaces — of the oasis, lived, practised, and qualified by their various actors of Siwa), and at the same time deals with the relationship of the anthropologist to “its fieldwork”: to take their time to understand space.

Plan de Siwa
Dessiné par un jardinier du village d’Aghurmi, mai 2004.

In the shade of the palm trees of Siwa, Egyptian Berber oasis, the sentence of Abdou which ensure me that “Why should I go to see from above things I already know from below?” is enough to shake the universality of the concept of landscape. That is not enough therefore to understand the variety of qualities and uses of spaces. The way privileged here is that of an anthropology on the field which is based on the empathy rather than to be unaware of it: it is a little more than “the share of situations” induced by the simple participating observation, it is the investment in the relation with a “other” identified. Nevertheless, if this implication remains of same intensity whatever is the scale of the studied space (from the oasis to the garden), its identity or its otherness (for the researcher which I am as for the inhabitants of Siwa) is presented or “received” in various way according to the various levels of space organization.

Siwa, Aghurmi, 20 février 2006.