Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Michigan State University
Reproducing Inequalities: Geographies of Power, Production, and Environmental Injustice in the Gambia, 1860-1980

Scholars have examined the effects of climate change on African societies, yet very little has been written on the ways in which environmental changes reproduced inequalities along the lines of class, religion, and gender in West African societies. Across the Gambia region, the fragility of the environment has not only worsened the livelihoods of local populations, but it has also put significant pressure on political elites, resulting in the use of oppressive tactics to safeguard their political interests. This project, based on ethnographic, archival, meteorological, and cartographic evidence, contributes to the interdisciplinary political ecology literature to show that across pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Gambia, powerful classes acquired strength from and exerted their powers over marginalized people through controlling access to vital environmental resources. While environmental crises compelled powerful pre-colonial rulers to raid local farmers, taking grain, slaves, and livestock from them, colonial and post-colonial political elites regularly acted on behalf of the well-connected dominant class in dispossessing marginal peoples of their agricultural lands as well as restricting their beneficial use of other environmental resources. Moreover, my research demonstrates the resilience of politically dispossessed groups by centering the experience of communities that strategized and struggled against elites in attempting to exercise control over their lands and environments. Marginalized people found sustenance in the environment by adapting alternative means of food collection and production, revealing that despite environmental instability and political oppression, the natural environment provided relief from injustice. While environmental injustice has been a perennial concern for contemporary activists who seek cleaner and healthier environments in the industrialized world, my dissertation shows how environmental injustice has reproduced inequalities that determined people’s environmental interactions for over a century.