Dr. Doerte Weig


Dissertation Title

Motility and Relational Mobility of the Baka in North-­Eastern Gabon

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Widlok
Advisor: Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig


This thesis offers a first scientific portrait of the Baka in North-­Eastern Gabon, a group of post-­foragers living along the River Ivindo, and the way they practice and conceptualise mobility.The inquiry encompasses the long-­term historical and the daily or short-­term current mobility of this group, elicited through life histories and participant observation. The central premise of this work is that mobility is relational. Relational refers to interaction of movement and fixity, of position and outcome, and to the understanding of mobility as socially produced.

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Weig Baka mapThe second concept employed is that of motility, the capacity or potential to be mobile. As motility analyses what comes before observable movement, of potential and actualised outcome as mobility or immobility, it takes up the idea of mobility as relational. The Baka living on the Ivindo migrated from Cameroon and Congo into Gabon over the last approximately 60 years.

In contrast to established approaches to forest forager mobility, which focus mainly on resource mobility during an annual cycle, this study considers the long-­term and larger geographical perspective and shows that the quality of personal relations between Baka and their neighbours is decisive in mobility considerations. Previously these relations were characterised as a structural opposition between two ethnic groups. This analysis demonstrates the heterogeneity of people and their interactions, in the past and the present, to argue, firstly, that relations are more appropriately conceptualised as multilateral, and, secondly, that an inquiry remains incomplete without considering affections and emotions. A principal mobility factor for the Baka is the search for a good life, meaning economic improvement and freedom from violence. This search coincides with a diversification of Baka livelihoods to include subsistence practices as well as working in the gold sites of Gabon. Employing motility shows the aspirations and limitations of Baka personal and group mobility in gold work. Motility is also understood as ‘mobility capital’ and thereby helps document social change, and how gold work is undertaken with reference to Baka egalitarian social organisation to be successful.

By including group and individual as well as different temporalities in the analysis, and detailing the impact of social values on mobilities, motility gives depth to the analysis of mobility.



2010 – 2013: Ph.D. Student at the Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Cologne.

2008 – 2009: M.Sc. in Social Anthropology, University College London.

Thesis title: “5 Rhythms: Movement as Cohesive Force”.

1994 – 1998: Bachelor of Laws, King’s College London.


Field Work

10/2010 – 10/2011: One year stay with a Baka group in Gabon

05/2009 – 09/2009: Researching with 5Rhythms practitioners and teachers



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