P196


African migration imaginaries: rumours, cosmologies, representations 
Convenors:
Jørgen Carling (Peace Research Institute Oslo)
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Format:
Panels
Location:
RH0S1
Start time:
1 July, 2017 at 16:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
1

Short Abstract:

How are images of destinations formed among potential migrants? This question is at the core of diverse African migrations, including rural-urban migration and international migration within or beyond the continent. Papers in this panel explore how migration imaginaries are formed.

Long Abstract

How are images of destinations formed among potential migrants? This is an old question that remains enigmatic and which requires new answers in light of changing contexts and theoretical advances. In the 1950s, analysts explained rural-urban migration in Africa with reference to 'the bright lights of the city'. Half a century later, coverage of African boat migration to Europe was replete with references to dreams of 'El Dorado'. There is a fine line between, on the one hand, embracing simplistic and paternalistic portrayals, and on the other hand, rejecting the power of cultural representations. Migration imaginaries are produced in complex social environments where different influences reinforce, complement, and often contradict each other. Survey research has found that in several African countries more than a third of the adult population expresses a wish to emigrate. Such results attest to the potency of migration imaginaries and inspire questions about how they might be understood. Ethnographic research in Africa has examined migration imaginaries with a variety of theoretical concepts, including cosmologies (Belloni), aspirations (Carling), disease (Horst), and consumption (Newell). European governments have increasingly sought to affect migration imaginaries as a component of migration management, devising campaigns to discourage Africans from setting out towards Europe. This panel invites papers that explore migration imaginaries related to any aspect of African migrations, including rural-urban migration, internal displacement, and international migration within or beyond the continent. In particular papers are encouraged to address the mechanisms through which migration imaginaries are formed.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Simon Turner (Copenhagen University)

Paper short abstract:

Through a close, ethnographic study of the decisions to decisions to stay or leave Burundi in a crisis situation that is still unfolding and often still only a potential threat, we explore how family members weigh the risk of physical insecurity up against the risk of loosing livelihoods.

Paper long abstract:

Imaginations are powerful in both migration narratives and in the decision to actually pack up and leave for another destination. Imaginations are emotional but they are also directed towards a future elsewhere and hence towards the unknown. They anticipate futures and help migrants-to-be seek out potentialities; hopes for a better future. While these imaginations and anticipations may focus positively on the potentials of better lives elsewhere - what we might call 'aspirations' - other kinds of anticipation may be oriented towards the negative futures that may occur; futures that 'block' possible personal progress. These anticipations we may call 'anxieties'.

Our paper explores how anxieties play into family decisions to stay or leave Burundi during the present low-intensity conflict. Often forced migration studies assume that conflict and violence simply 'push' people to be displaced. Through a close, ethnographic study of the decisions to move in a crisis situation that is still unfolding and often still only a potential threat, we explore how family members weigh the risk of physical insecurity up against the risk of loosing livelihoods. Not only are they making a choice between security and survival; they are simultaneously trying to predict the future in each case. The result is often, that the family moves in steps: At first they stay temporarily with relatives, then the father or mother returns in order not to loose their income, then both leave, or they all return, etc.

Authors:

Jesper Bjarnesen (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.

Author:

Nauja Kleist (Danish Institute for International Studies)

Paper short abstract:

Hope, characterized by simultaneous potentiality and uncertainty, offers an analytical prism for exploring the imaginaries of migration and destinations in a situation where images of mobility are widely circulated but access to international legal migration is out of reach for most Africans.

Paper long abstract:

I propose that hope offers a productive analytical prism for exploring destinations in the contemporary mobility paradox: the increased reach and accessibility of communication, media and transport technologies mean that people all over the world are exposed to visions of the good life elsewhere. At the same time, because of restrictive mobility regimes, the vast majority of people in the global South are excluded from the circuits of legal international migration. Hope, characterized by simultaneous potentiality and uncertainty, lends itself to analysis of how and if people keep on having faith in migration as a pathway to a better life in such a situation. I further suggest two concepts to refine the analysis: 1) topographies of hope (Mar 2005) - the mapping of opportunities and constraints onto places and 2) social repositories of hope - the spheres of life which inspire or evoke hope.

Finally, I analyse destinations in the case of involuntary return migration to Ghana. Based on fieldwork among deportees and evacuees from Libya, I suggest that life in Ghana constitutes the ultimate destination in the topographies of hope for this group of migrants. Especially pre-civil war Libya was a destination for earning money to support one's family in Ghana and, in due time, return to a better life in Ghana, made possible by the economic rewards from migration. Despite the risks, overland migration is a repository of hope for realizing a better future life in Ghana in the absence of local desirable or convincing livelihoods.

Author:

Tekalign Ayalew Mengiste (Addis Ababa University and Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

Migration aspiration in urban Ethiopia is shaped by precarious life condition, transactional relations and increased imaginations of better life is elsewhere. This paper discusses how various actors and discourses (re)produce migration imaginaries among the young.

Paper long abstract:

Several local and global conditions are shaping young people's migration aspirations in urban Ethiopia. In the context of uncertainties due to limited life choices and volatile political conditions, many young people are unable to fulfil personal life projects and family expectations, including stable income, marriage and starting one's own family. With the expansion of interconnections to global systems and access to information on unequal world and consumption patterns, limited access to formal migration channels as well as encountering daily flows of diasporic remittances, young people have begun feeling deprived and excluded from global connections. Moreover, in everyday media, state policy, popular culture, public debates and discourses about migration to the West and diaspora in Ethiopia are very much about high level of 'prosperity, consumption, cosmopolitanism, knowledge and remittance', which significantly shape the hopes and motivations of the young people wanting to migrate mainly to the West. Moreover, expanding migration industry such as private labour recruitment agencies and migration brokers disseminate narratives about gains of migration to potential migrants. Based on ethnographic data, collected between 2013-2015 for a PhD project, from various actors in Addis Ababa (origin location) and migrants en route (in the Sudan, Italy) and in diasporic locations such as the UK and Sweden, this paper maps out how, among others, translocal and transnational relations, smuggling practices, popular culture and state policies produce and reproduce images of migration destination among Ethiopian potential young migrants.

Author:

Milena Belloni (University of Trento)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic research conducted among Eritreans at home and in transit to and in Europe, this paper analyses the multiple layers contributing to the emergence, reproduction and transformation of “cosmologies of destinations”.

Paper long abstract:

Based on ethnographic research conducted among Eritreans at home and in transit to and in Europe, this paper analyses the multiple layers contributing to the emergence, reproduction and transformation of "cosmologies of destinations". By this concept, I refer to widespread representations of the world which orient migration journeys. Among my Eritrean informants, possible destinations were ordered along an implicit but widely shared normative and moral scale, with different levels of perceived safety, individual freedom, social recognition and economic achievements—just to mention some key dimensions. Drawing from my case study, this paper shows how cosmologies of destinations are shaped by several influences. First, I examine how historical exposure of the community to international migration has influenced my informants' ideas about destination countries; second, I describe how national and international media play a role in affecting their preferences; third, I illustrate how mouth-to-ear rumours, and the continuous circulation of second hand information contribute to certain stereotypes about possible countries of destinations and their inhabitants. The (reliable or not) information, images and imaginaries built on these different sources, are combined, reproduced and transformed over space and time by different groups. As a result, cosmologies are sometimes extremely sensitive to feedback mechanisms and on other occasions, resistant even to first-hand migrants' experience. How, under what circumstances and among whom cosmologies change are empirical questions for which I provide some exploratory analytical answers feeding into the larger debate on migration and aspirations, moralities and cultural diffusion.