‘Dust in the Wind’? Frontiers as Recursive Spaces in the Hinterland Constructions of Oil-Boom Angola

Authors: Aharon De Grassi*, University of California - Santa Cruz
Topics: Africa, Geographic Theory, Rural Geography
Keywords: Frontiers, Africa, Oil, Infrastructure, Agrarian
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

At 5:06 am on January 13, 2011, roughly 100 years after its construction, the newly rebuilt railroad inland from Angola’s capital Luanda made its inaugural departure to the tune of Kansas’ iconic 1975 song ‘Dust in the Wind.’ After four decades of conflict, the Chinese carriages in Angola’s national colors of black, red, and gold traveled on tracks rebuilt through a watershed 2004 international loan, purporting to restore links with historic hinterlands (once used for slaving, coffee, cotton and diamond extraction). Such frontiers are now multi-dimensional socio-spatial edges of places and regions whose forms emerged through frontier dynamics in other times and places. With the railroad supplanted by faster, cheaper roads and trucks amidst global commodity overproduction, it’s less a vein draining raw commodities than an artery importing inland construction materials and gasoline financed via another Angolan frontier, deep-water oil. ‘Dust in the Wind’ can evoke the makeshift constructions of towns, industries and roads on a recursive frontier, and not simply the impermanence of infrastructure when ‘blown to dust’ during war or economically neglected and “crumbling to the ground.” Despite the placed patterns of infrastructural ‘sedimentations,’ such palimpsests are never simply the “same old song.” Hinterland construction in oil-boom Angola illustrates how rooting the recursivity of frontiers in the specific scalar transformations of and connections between extraction, production, and circulation makes conceptualizing frontiers as recursive spaces more analytically productive than the prevailing notion of “internal African frontiers,” a concept limited by its abstractness and paradoxical inattention to geography.

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