Comparative Deserts

Deserts have long acted as spaces of political tension and asymmetrical power, functioning as testing grounds for nuclear weapons, zones of indefinite detention and death, spaces of ecological disaster, and sites of geopolitical threat. The desert today continues to evoke problematic imaginaries of narcotraffickers, “illegal” immigrants, smugglers, and Islamist militias, images that have prompted justifications for policing, securitization, gridding, exploiting, and even (re)fertilizing projects in this supposedly dead space. Most recently, the flow of sub-Saharan African immigrants out of “desert space” into European territories has led many Western commentators to interpret current migrant patterns as a type of ‘encroachment’ of the Sahara, a socio-political desertification that has placed this vast land at the center of Europe socially, politically, and culturally. Yet such dialogues collectively eclipse deeper connections and exchanges that have taken root between desert inhabitants for millennia and have ignored the interplay of imperialist agendas, venture capitalist initiatives, and necropolitics (Mbembe) in the desert that have long shaped the cultural and socio-political contours of this landscape as a real and imagined space. This two-day conference, which runs on May 20-21, 2021, aims to open “the desert” up for robust comparative discussions about desert spaces across the world and across different media and modes of representation.

Comparative Deserts Program (PDF)