Accepted Paper:

"Nerves!": struggling with immobility in The Gambia  


Paolo Gaibazzi (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the discourses and practices revolving around the so called "nerves syndrome" in The Gambia, a phenomenon which captures the frustration of youth aspiring to migrate vis-à-vis limited opportunities of social mobility and restrictive immigration policies at destination.

Paper long abstract:

In the face of the increasing importance of transnational migration for Africa and Africans, a large number of subjects in the sending contexts do not or cannot migrate. Even if willing they may lack socioeconomic resources or fail to obtain visas due to restrictive immigration policies in the West and elsewhere. How do they live transnational migration and policy making? Which social and cultural practices have such processes engendered in the sending contexts?

The paper analyses the so-called "nerves syndrome" in The Gambia which mainly concerns young men aspiring to migrate; it does so by paying particular attention to Soninke communities, one of the most travelled peoples in the country. "Nerves" is part of a larger vocabulary through which youths speak of their frustrated aspirations of migrating and progressing socially. However, rather than seeing it as a simple result of the juxtaposition between push factors in Africa and tight migration policies in the West, the paper looks at the "syndrome" as a complex phenomenon stemming from the historical articulations between geographical and social mobility. The phenomenon condenses concepts and bodily experiences of masculinity and work, wealth and consumption, success and failure, morality and destiny, some of which become contested topics in the public sphere. The picture is further complicated by models and imaginaries about success and cosmopolitan experience circulated by migrant activities and networks.

The paper therefore elaborates on the contradictory ways in which transnational migration effects socio-economic inequalities, performs and strains solidarities, and produces cultural change.

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