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by Vincent Battesti

Lecture (in French/English) “Perceptions and practices of its environment, contrasted in the oases and in the desert (Sahara, Arabia)”
given for the workshop “Le contour des sens. Subjectivités, représentations et expérience sensible des paysages par les sociétés méditerranéennes anciennes” | “The contour of the senses. Subjectivities, representations and sensitive experience of landscapes by ancient Mediterranean societies”
Junior laboratory “Nomad’s Lands”,
Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée de Lyon (Lyon, France)
June 23rd, 2022.

 Workshop program:
 Workshop webpage


This talk is not that of a historian, but of a social anthropologist. The field of practice of his art is the contemporary, and thus the data synthesized here are those from contemporary and situated ethnographic fields, with a phenomenological focus on the local. Over the period 1990-2020, the examples evoked will be drawn from Djanet and surroundings (Tuaregs) in Algeria, from the Jerid region (sedentary and Bedouin) in Tunisia, from Siwa (sedentary Berber-speaking Isiwan and Awled ’Alī Bedouin) and the wādī Abū Subeīra (Aswan) and environs (’Abābda and Nubians) in Egypt, from the wādī Ḥadramawt (sedentary) in Yemen, and from al-’Ulā and environs (sedentary and Balawī and ’Anezī Bedouin) in Saudi Arabia.

The landscape - polysemic term and eminently complex notion - will be partly evacuated, even if my work navigated between several meanings of this notion. It is possible here, for the sake of intelligence, to substitute the term “environment”, in the sense of who surrounds. But the perceptive and sensory notions remain in the center of my intervention centered on two “things”, oasis and desert, used in contrast, but we will insist on their etic quality (and not emic), and inevitably, that will refer to our own landscape notions of Europeans.

Once this has been clarified, I will play on the contrasting effects, as experienced and made explicit by the local interlocutors, and inferred as a result of long ethnographic fieldwork, between these two things of living and practicing “the oasis” and “the desert” (despite the obvious interconnections): what it means to live in the desert and what the oasis means to them for those who live or lived in an itinerant pastoral economy, and what it means to live in the oasis and what the desert means to them for those who live or lived in a sedentary agricultural economy. All this obviously testifies to the education of the gaze, and more broadly, to sensory education and differentiated moral references. I will also underline what unites them in fine, in particular the feeling sometimes to live in the center of the world.

 Visuals file of the oral presentation (French and English):

Fichier des visuels accompagnant la présentation orale, Vincent Battesti, Le contour des sens, 23 juin 2022 à Lyon.
File of visual material supporting the oral presentation, Vincent Battesti, Le contour des sens, 23 June 2022 in Lyon.
© Vincent Battesti
Following ’Abābda in the wādī Abū Subeīra (nearby Assouan), Oriental Desert, Egypt, February 26, 2015, by Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti
A Siwi farmer in his garden, during harvest of the dates, Siwa Oasis, Libyan Desert, Egypt, November 16, 2015, by Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti