Accepted Paper:

An economy of suffering and potentiality: hope, risk and luck in high-risk migration and involuntary return to Ghana  


Nauja Kleist (Danish Institute for International Studies)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on involuntary return migration to Ghana, analyzing the interplay between migrants’ social obligations and aspirations for maturity versus notions of hope, risk and luck after deportation or evacuation from conflict.

Paper long abstract:

Contemporary migration is characterized by a mobility paradox. The increased reach and accessibility of communication, media and transport technologies mean that people in many parts of the world are exposed to visions of the good life elsewhere while restrictive mobility regimes makes access to legal mobility increasingly difficult.

In this paper I employ hope as an analytical framework to study this mobility paradox, highlighting potentiality as well as uncertainty. The paper focuses on involuntary return migration to Ghana, such as deportation from North Africa and Europe and evacuation from Libya following the civil war. I ask how involuntary returnees, their families and local communities understand and deal with this situation, analyzing notions of hoped-for futures and a meaningful life and where these futures and lives are perceived to be located. I argue that high-risk livelihood migration is related to gendered notions and practices of maturity, social obligations, and possibilities for accumulation and 'exposure' which are widely seen as lacking in Ghana for people without much money, education or connections - or access to regular international migration. Migration in this situation is inspired by the success of previous migrants and embedded in an ethos of necessity to avoid social stagnation; hope for realizing a good future in Ghana is thus located elsewhere. However it is also related to pain and notions of risk and (bad) luck, constituting an economy of suffering and potentiality, characterized by uncertainty and made more dangerous and difficult by conflict and the intensification of migration control.

Panel P144
Navigating migration and asylum regimes