Paper short abstract:
Young people in Guinea-Bissau and the Gambia commonly construct their "life projects" in Europe as Western ideologies map out a trajectory in the collective imagination: from the "backward" village to the "modern" city and ultimately to the "real" site of progress - the West.
Paper long abstract:
It is common in recent anthropology to emphasize positive outcomes of global cultural processes for the identity, aspirations and imagination of people around the world. As the horizons of the social, collective imagination have widened to encompass global possibilities, this process has been described as "freeing the imagination". Indeed, the imaginary "life projects" of many young Africans today are constructed on the global, rather than local scale. Migration to Europe is a common dream in Guinea-Bissau and the Gambia. Europe - which is remote but at the same time present, almost inaccessible and yet powerfully attractive - is a parallel, rival reality in which one's "constructed life" is located. As a consequence, dreams and ambitions of young men - often for years - centre around Europe, preventing them from investing in their future locally. Self-perceptions are shaped by the presence of that elsewhere in the collective imagination. Rather than freeing the imagination, the global circulation of Western ideologies and images of the West seems to have mapped out a certain trajectory in the collective imagination of West Africans: from the "backward" village to the "modern" city. But as the reality often does not support the village/town dichotomy, ultimately the trajectory leads to the "real" site of progress, the West. Development is primarily a temporal ideology. Reaching progress is envisioned in it as a question of time. In countries in which economic progress for various reasons does not occur, however, it becomes a spatial one delineated on a global scale.
Imagination, migration & (im)mobility