DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

An ecopoetic approach to the literature of the Senegal River Valey – EcoSen

Submission summary

EcoSen aims to highlight the links between Pulaar literary output and the environment of the Senegal River region (southern Mauritania, northern Senegal), by implementing a novel theoretical approach to the literature of this region, and, more widely, to Afrophone literature, which we term Ecopoetics. This discipline, which is just beginning to emerge in French research, investigates in texts the relationship between humans and their environment, in order to shed light on environmental poetics, which accepts that there are many ways of inhabiting the world, and more or less implicitly assumes the importance of a socio-political dimension. The underlying hypothesis of EcoSen is that the environment plays a leading role in the creation of poetry and in how it resonates, both with the local population and in the diaspora. This hypothesis is based on numerous findings in the previous research of the project members, all of whom have in common extensive field experience in the Senegal River valley.
The Senegal River flows through the entire region in question and its seasonal flooding impacts the entire life of the population. However, since the 1960s, the region has been subject to profound changes, both environmental (droughts, dam construction, the extinction of animal and plant species) and social (increased poverty, mass migration both within and beyond Africa). This transformation of the countryside has been accompanied by a growing sense of political marginalization and an outspoken voicing of cultural demands supported by some quite dynamic national and international associations, largely articulated by poets. Thus, from the 1960s onwards, contemporary Pulaar literature has been developing in both Africa and Europe. Simultaneously, the rich, prolific and prestigious oral poetry of the valley, traditionally presented as dependent on a hierarchical social organization, remains deeply rooted in the natural environment, while at the same time evolving in terms of how it is proclaimed, disseminated and honored culturally (e.g. through the Internet and art festivals).
In order to identify the link between poetry and the environment, EcoSen will adopt an interdisciplinary methodology bringing together five specialists from this area of the Sahel (two literature specialists, one geographer, and two anthropologists). Their aim is to undertake collaborative research on the processes, functions and issues surrounding the creation of places and landscapes, starting with a corpus of oral and written poetry representing different social groups (shepherds, hunters, breeders, etc.). New data will be gathered on the field (poetry, cartographic data, linguistic terminology, ethnographic inverviews etc). Their cross-fertilization will lead to the setting up of a digital platform developed by a team of skilled technicians in collaboration with the researchers, which will serve the interests not only of the disciplines involved but also the general public.
EcoSen's approach and results will be reflected in publications, and through collaborations in academia (in Senegal and France) and civil society. EcoSen has the support of the UNESCO initiative Rivers and Heritage: the Natural and Cultural Diversity of River Landscapes. By bequeathing the hitherto subsidiary topic of the environment its rightful place as an aesthetic element essential to understanding the dynamism and social implications of Pulaar poetry, EcoSen proposes a new and stimulating change of perspective on the poetry of the Senegal River valley. This will enable us to grasp, from a new angle, the message of the texts already collected and those to come, and to understand the mobilizing force of the poetic discourse observed in this region. The very originality of EcoSen will advance French thinking about Ecopoetics, by allowing young researchers to apply this theory to the African context.

Project coordination

Mélanie BOURLET (Langage, Langues et Cultures d'Afrique Noire)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LLACAN Langage, Langues et Cultures d'Afrique Noire

Help of the ANR 210,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2017 - 48 Months

Useful links

Explorez notre base de projets financés



ANR makes available its datasets on funded projects, click here to find more.

Sign up for the latest news:
Subscribe to our newsletter