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Accepted Paper:

Prepackaged success? Migration, expectation, and masculinity in high-rise Nairobi  
Mario Schmidt (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle))

Paper short abstract:

Discussing how male migrants from Western Kenya deal with the unexpected difficulties of becoming successful men once they arrive in Nairobi, this paper proposes to shift the conceptual focus away from uncertainty and hope towards certainty and expectation (prepackaged hope = expectation).

Paper long abstract:

Education --- migration to the city --- formal employment and marriage --- return to the village as a wealthy man. Many Western Kenyan men have remained modern. They still perceive the path towards economic success as ready-made. They never hoped for, but expected success. Arriving in Pipeline, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most densely populated estates (roughly 200,000 inhabitants per square kilometer), many well-educated male migrants realize that success is more difficult to achieve than they had thought. Trapped between their own and others’ expectations to become a “provider” (giving up and returning home is not an option), they navigate the fine line between despair and certainty – a task they describe as producing “pressure” in both its psychological (e.g., suicidal thoughts, sleeplessness, aggressiveness) and physical forms (e.g., high blood pressure, ulcers, headaches).

Building upon eighteen months of fieldwork among male migrants in Pipeline, I suggest to shift anthropological attention away from hope and creativity to open up space to explore expectations and quite uncreative ways of dealing with “pressure” and the threat of failure. Instead of focusing on “hope”, aptly characterized by Pete Lockwood as “an existential force of productive uncertainty” (2020: 46), anthropologists should attempt to excavate the conceptual power of “expectations” as an ‘existential force of unproductive certainty’ that, in case the fulfilment of the expectations had been continuously postponed, resulted in some of the most stereotypical forms of male behavior during my fieldwork: bar fights, excessive weightlifting and consumption of alcohol, invocations of “brotherhood”, and gender-based violence.

Panel P085b
Prepackaged hopes and ready-made paths of transformation II
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -