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Accepted Paper:

Urgency of the Present: China rising and African migrant time  
Jing Jing Liu (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

An epistemological orientation of migrant time as future driven rather than present focused often obscures the subjective process of change while remaining in place. The figure of the Nigerian entrepreneur in a time of China rising reconfigures the ‘suffering’ subject into a subject at speed.

Paper long abstract:

One explanation for the endurance of the ‘suffering slot’ in migration studies can be traced to an epistemological emphasis on migrant time as oriented toward the future rather than attentive to the present. From a perspective of futurity, migrant journeys are plagued by uncertainty and precarity captured by idioms of slowness or stasis. Shifting our focus to the present and tracking other temporal structures reveal that migrant lives are also imbued with acceleration and speed.

Based on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork with Nigerian entrepreneurs in Yiwu, China, I follow the experience of one Nigerian entrepreneur, Chinaka, over the span of two years. Unlike narratives of African migrants who face limited prospects overseas, in China, Chinaka was confronted by the tyranny of choice. Chinaka had cycled through a multitude of possible roles: student, chef, intermediary, trader, bouncer, salesman, and translator. Taking up multiple roles is a mechanism whereby one can ‘speed up’ oneself. Speed, here, is defined as an immersion into foreignness to create distance and then intimacy between the familiar and the foreign. 'Speeding up' oneself became a means to make the most of one’s time in China and to undergo a personal transformation of change while remaining in place. Thus, a subject at speed is a response to the pace of China rising in hopes of accelerating through the impasse that brought them to China in the first place. The historical conjuncture of China rising and Nigeria ‘regressing’ gives urgency to the present to rethink African migrant time.

Panel P003c
Beyond the 'Suffering Subject' in Migration Research III
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -