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The equivocal relations, Circumspect approaches for a socio-ecology of Saharan oases.

Vincent Battesti

Doctorate Thesis in Social Anthropology, The equivocal relations, Circumspect approaches for a socio-ecology of Saharan oases, defended in Paris, Sept. 28th, 1998.

 Original title:
Les relations équivoques, approches circonspectes pour une socioécologie des oasis sahariennes.

Université René Descartes-Sorbonne Paris v - Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, sept. 1998, bibl., 47 fig., 10 photog., 14 tab., annexes, 357 p.

ISSN: 0294-1767
Doctorat nouveau régime 98/PA05/H043

Thèse de doctorat

 Abstract of the thesis appearing on the back-cover:

"This works focus of attention was the relations between societies and their natural environment. The ubiquity of a disconcerting exoticism within scientific analysis, as well as the simplifying tendency to conceive the oasis as an easy to seize ’fertile spot in the desert’, defined exclusively by the laws of its live-sustaining element water, encouraged my interest in a more complex, multi-layered model of oasian life.

My biological background incites me to dedicate my work especially to palm-groves of oases. I have worked mostly in a south Tunisian region, Jerid, but also in Djanet, South of Algeria, and finally in the Moroccan Zagora.

In the quest for the relation between oasian society and its environment, I have tried to avoid the eternal dispute on the prevalence of either nature or culture. Instead, I attempted to fuse them in favour of a non-dual explanation, fostering the ambitious aim to establish an oasian socio-ecology.

My insights on oasian nature are based on its three levels spatial structure, ranging from the expansive (oasis in general) to the confined (the garden). According to its location in space, three levels of possibility of oasian praxis are differentiated. Deriving from the organisation of space, corresponding levels of temporalities allow-ing those differentiated praxes can be distinguished.

It is however illusive to define an “oasian norm” for the socio-ecological process. The praxes vary according to the different actors performing them. Put another way, the categories of actors of the oasian world find theirs polar co-ordinates in a conceptual space defined by ideals-types of the relation society-environment (autochtho-nous, orientalism, paternalism).

For all that, the ideal-type “autochthonous” is not a norm that can be solely determined by either the environment or by the society. It is important to underline that there is no precedence of either society or environment as de-termining factor. There is a combining of both and we can evaluate their relative influence according to the oa-sian web of space and time.

Those circumspect approaches to the oasis’ complexity shed light on the equivocal relations of the researcher to his object, of the individual to its society, of the society to its environment."

 Download the Ph.D. Thesis one the Open Archives website.

For transparency concern, this Ph.D. Thesis is available to download, but is published at the IRD Publishing house, an improved, updated, shortened and less academic version (and free to download):
Jardins au désert, Evolution des pratiques et savoirs oasiens, Jerid tunisien, Paris, Éditions IRD, coll. À travers champs, June 2005).

 Download the report of the Thesis defence (in French):

Thèse: rapport de soutenance
Paris (V), le 28 sept. 1998

 Can be found too a longer abstract of the thesis (not of the book) published here.

 Go to the web site of University Paris V, Faculté des sciences humaines et sociales

 Go to the web site of Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.

[1Previous director of the laboratoire d’Ethnobiologie Biogéographie at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris.

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Vincent Battesti , "The equivocal relations, Circumspect approaches for a socio-ecology of Saharan oases. " (online), Anthropoasis |, page published 28 September 1998 (consulted 23 February 2024), available on: