Accepted Paper:

Transnationalism and social mobility through the performing arts in Senegal  


Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

One of the preferred routes towards social mobility in Senegal is to become a performer, thereby gaining access to global touring opportunities. This paper explores some of the socio-cultural transformations and moral dilemmas generated by this recent form of mobility.

Paper long abstract:

One of the youth's preferred routes towards social mobility in Senegal is to become a performer in one of the numerous neo-traditional troupes that have flourished since the 1960s. The profession emerged with the creation of the National Ballet, set up in 1961 to act as a cultural ambassador for Senegal and contribute to nation-building. As the national project weakened, the genre was re-appropriated by neighbourhood and hometown associations to embody local identities and take advantage of the global success of 'African performance'. With each tour, many performers settled in the host countries, often benefiting from already established transnational connections.

This paper explores some of the ways in which 'artistic' mobility has affected sociocultural change in Senegal. For example, the successful careers of migrant artists has challenged the traditional perception of praise-singers and other performers as persons of a lower social status. In this predominantly Muslim society, it also raises acute questions of morality, particularly where women performers are concerned. Finally, it inevitably sustains the imagination of non-migrants and makes immobility problematic in a social environment often hostile to those who are reluctant to leave or do not 'make it' abroad.

Panel W004
Mobility, transnational connections and sociocultural change in contemporary Africa