Ruination and migrant imaginaries in Burkina Faso and Guinea Bissau
(The Nordic Africa Institute)
Henrik Vigh (University of Copenhagen)
Paper short abstract:
On the basis of long-term ethnographic involvement with issues of migration and social navigation in Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso, this paper analyses the migrant imaginaries of regional and cross-continental migrants through the concept of ruination.
Paper long abstract:
Migrant imaginaries tend to be shaped by the trajectories and achievements of previous generations of migrants. Past departures and returns inspire and enable the movements of new generations - whether in periodic cycles of regional labour migration or in moves across continents and over decades or even lifetimes. Current attempts by European authorities to dissuade, reshape, or pre-empt African migrant imaginaries in the wake of the so-called European refugee crisis tend to assume that current and future movements are anchored in the present, and centred on the individual, and generally fail to consider the underlying social and structural continuities that shape expectations, outlooks and possibilities. On the basis of long-term ethnographic involvement with issues of migration and social navigation in Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso, this paper analyses the migrant imaginaries of regional and cross-continental migrants through the concept of ruination. Ruins of buildings are traces of political and social histories whose practical and symbolic meanings are reappropriated, reinterpreted, and renegotiated in ever-changing socio-political landscapes. Temples become tombs, hotels become barracks, monuments shift from shrines of lost glory to displays of ancient tyranny. In similar ways, past migrations linger on and inspire, challenge or dissuade new generations of migrants who may or may not be aware of the ruins on which they tread. By exploring migrant imaginaries through the processes of ruination they reject or reproduce, this paper offers an attempt to reconceptualise the relationship between past and present movements and the profoundly social nature of migrant aspirations and trajectories.
African migration imaginaries: rumours, cosmologies, representations