No Go World

No go worldAndersson, R. No Go World: How Fear is Redrawing our Maps and Infecting our Politics. Oakland: University of California Press, 2019. 360 p. $21.35. ISBN: 978-0520294608.

<< issue home
next feature >>

In No Go World, Andersson aims to contextualize the historical, cultural, and political mechanisms which created zones of insecurity and violence in several areas across the world including the Sahel region of Africa, the primary focus of the book. Andersson’s goal is to highlight the fallacy in which these zones are dismissed by many Westerners who can easily disengage from distressing events happening in these areas, yet the same areas serve as primary stages for geopolitical violence, resource depletion, and exploitation. Andersson uses the term “geography of fear” in which our globalizing world, theoretically enabling us to bridge geographic divides between countries, is becoming increasingly disconnected into areas of safety and danger.

The book’s main body is organized into two main parts: (1) “The Story of the Map”, and (2) “Contagion”, preceded by a list of figures and maps, and a preface and introduction. Part 1, described by Andersson as a “cartographic journey,” primarily undertakes a drawing of the map of danger zones in Somalia, Mali, and the broader Sahelian region, which are framed as distant from globalization yet intricately connected to it as world stages for experimentation in fear and insecurity. In Part 2, aptly named, Andersson delves deeper into the power, politics, and fear appeal at play which spread and blur the boundaries of these danger zones – a geopathology of danger. The book ends with an anthropological appendix titled “Power of Narration, Narration of Power,” which provides an extended discussion of Andersson’s fieldwork methods in context to broader narratives in anthropology and power.

Andersson fulfills the intent expressed in the introduction of the book throughout the content: through the use of historical analysis and ethnography, he provides a comprehensive, and convincing, argument for a cartography of hope and possibility in which we “share risk” and view problems in the Sahel, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, and a host of other countries as our own shared challenges, rather than discounting these regions as “no go zones.” Andersson describes the complex processes in which danger zones became a global stage for weaving instabilities and fear, and offers a geographically-rich analysis of the geopathology of the spread of these zones and their associated fears from both internal and external audiences.

Many texts concerning North Africa and Southwest Asia written from a primarily Western perspective tend to gloss over the myriad successes, triumphs, and beauty found in these regions and explicitly engage with solely a negative narrative of the geographic area. To his immense credit, Andersson, while acknowledging in full the geopolitical, cultural, and economic factors which align to create tension in the area, often resulting from colonization, also highlights the voices of those who work to pay homage to the complexity of these regions, such as Hans Rosling, a global health professor, exhibited by the following quote in the book in reference to a television interview on Nigeria where the reporter chose to only discuss themes of wars, conflicts, and chaos with Rosling:

“Rosling lifted his foot onto the table and pointed at his shoe. ‘You can choose to only show my shoe, which is very ugly, but that is only a small part of me,’ he said: to him, the media held up this shoe and falsely called it the world.” (p. 178).

In a similar vein, Andersson’s regular acknowledgment of his own positionality and privilege is a refreshing thread weaved throughout the text, important in all research where the author is effectively an “outsider” to a region, but particularly crucial in anthropological work. Andersson, in a manner further reiterating the fallacy of danger zones often removed from Western life yet intimately connected to the globalization of fear and violence, acknowledges the ease in which he may engage with this research from the comfort of his office in the United Kingdom. Andersson’s humility throughout the book renders it an accessible and digestible read.

Geographers researching in the areas of geopolitics, political geography, and humanitarianism (as well as a multitude of other topics) will be well-served by reading this book; the book reads as part-ethnography, part-historical analysis, and part-political strategy, allowing for a multifaceted extended glimpse into the remapping of the Sahelian region into one of fear and exclusion. The book is primarily written text with twelve accompanying maps demonstrating the historical, cultural, and political cartography of no-go zones, including the historical Catalan Atlas (circa 1375), which showcases the Western infatuation with desert exploration and riches alongside their fears of kidnapping, murder, and the slave trade they associated with the area. More recent maps include themes in terrorism, famine, war-induced migration routes across northern Africa, and the main nationalities of illegal border crossings towards Europe. Andersson’s book would play a unique role in political science and historical geography library collections; however, in reference services, I recommend highlighting atlases and other cartographic resources for North Africa and Southwest Asia as accompaniment to this book, as a very small proportion of No Go World is cartographic in nature, and those unfamiliar with the geography of the region may have a difficult time navigating the book.

Andersson’s work reinforces the dire need for geographers, particularly those studying geopolitics, to understand the ramifications of colonization, fear appeal politics and messaging, and uneven economic development on shaping our perceptions of regions. Andersson leaves the reader with an intricate understanding of how the mechanisms of fear effectively reshaped perceptions and politics of the Sahel, and provides realistic strategies for moving forward in shaping a more positive, and equitable, political path for the future.

Dr. Hannah C. Gunderman
Faculty Librarian, Research Data Management Consultant
Carnegie Mellon University Libraries

<< issue home
next feature >>