Panel 21

Conceptualizing Youth Mobility

Panel organisers: Kajsa Hallberg Adu, Ashesi University College, Ghana and Michael Boampong, Birkbeck, University of London.


This panel aims to advance conceptual understanding of African youth’s mobilities and what shapes their mobilities and the outcomes of mobilites for young people. Recent empirical research in Africa has reported of intra-migration dynamics amid restrictions on how people move freely within the continent and across to other continents. Meanwhile, young people continue to face political-economic constraints as well as growing expectations on what it means to be a young person who transitions successfully into adulthood. Mobilities play a key role in shaping young people’s access to opportunities e.g. jobs and education, however both student and youth mobilities are underreseached.

For this panel we will discuss young people’s mobilities from different disciplinary perspectives that lend insights for theorisation. The session will bring together new empirical and conceptual papers on the following thematic issues:

First, we invite submissions of research papers – including qualitative, quantitative and multi-methods projects - evidencing experiences of young people’s mobilities in relation to changing political, social and economic factors. We will be interested in sharing insights from geographically-differentiated case studies as well as the intersections between local/international, identity/family conditions, transnational/neoliberal regimes as well as wider spatial/social inequalities.

Second, we invite papers which provide new conceptual and methodological reflections. We particularly seek papers with innovative ways of theorizing and researching mobilities as well as conversations on the constraints or opportunities of certain methods or approaches across different contexts.

The role of young people in Africa cannot be underestimated as it is the most youthful continent. However, what is the role of youth in African mobilities? This panel discusses a wide variety of youth mobility experiences with a focus on concepts and theorization.

Approved abstracts panel 21

1. Individualism and Family: Ghanaian students discuss migration

Author: Kajsa Hallberg Adu, Ashesi University College, Ghana.

In the migration literature the role of individual and family has been debated, and especially for the African continent, the migration decision has often been captured as a family resolution (Abdul-Korah 2011; Coe, 2011; Cadwell, 1965; Mazzucato 2008). However while youth migration, in general, might be impacted by family pressures, I argue that a university student is conceptually different with individual agency and better opportunities at home.

This study is based on interviews with 11 purposively sampled university students in Ghana and finds that while families often, but not always, weigh in and may support education and travel, the migration decision is heavily resting on individual agency as well as information from friends abroad. Contrariwise, many students discuss future return to Ghana based on family ties and creating opportunities for others at home, pointing to families indeed impacting mobility for university students, but in terms of return migration.

2. ‘Becoming somebody’: Youth transitions through education and migration and the role of transnational family habitus

Author: Michael Boampong, Birkbeck, University of London, UK.

Evidence from research with children and parents, often emphasises young people’s desires to ‘become someone’. However, a number of political-economic conditions including social and economic inequalities shape young people’s desires and expectations within austerity and neoliberal contexts. In this paper, I will draw on data from a multi-sited ethnographic research with young migrants and non-migrants to explore the relationship between migration and educational aspirations within changing economic conditions of austerity and neoliberalism in the Ghana-UK transnational social field. In addition to providing evidence on how young people connect education and migration to the process of becoming someone, I will explain the role of ‘transnational family habitus’ achieving the social position of ‘somebody’ as well as the diverse patterns of internal and international mobilities and social practices undertaken.

3. Return migration of young Dutch-Ghanaian professionals from the Netherlands to Ghana

Author: Josie Post, Leiden University, the Netherslands.

This study was aimed at examining the phenomenon and dynamics of return migration of young high skilled Dutch-Ghanaians to Ghana, to identify social and contextual factors which influence decisions to return. Data for this study was based on primary data, obtained from in-depth interviews with 8 purposively selected respondents in Ghana and the Netherlands, and secondary data obtained from books and electronic articles. This study looks into three stages of the respondents’ move to Ghana, from their initial wish to move and their experiences in the process to their perceptions of the future.
It was discovered that respondents see an increasing interest among young Dutch-Ghanaian professionals in the Netherlands to move to Ghana. Motivations for decisions to move however are in a state of flux. It was discovered that there is no uni-directional flow in the migration pattern of young Dutch-Ghanaians, as Ghana is not necessarily perceived as their final destination for a permanent stay. Most of the interviewed young professionals continue to look for opportunities elsewhere, back in Europe but also in other African countries, as experiences in Ghana are shaping their perceptions and expectations regarding new destinations. These outcomes raise some implications on transnationalism and mixed migration.

4. Journey toward Social Mobility: Case of Migration and its Success in Kenya-Uganda Borderlands in 1960s-70s

Author: Soichiro Shiraishi, Hirosaki University, Japan.

In this paper, we discuss the social process of making aspiration for social mobility by intra-familial relationships as well as public education in Eastern Africa in 1960s-70s. Based on a life document of a migrant in Kenya-Uganda borderland, I describe (1) his intra-familial relationships during his boyhood and (2) the process through which public education nurtured his aspiration to social mobility. Classical social anthropology has achieved descriptions of traditional families focused on and emphasising the functions of production (agricultural production, for example) and reproduction (marriage and inheritance of family property, for example). Thus, how individuals experience his/her life in such families, which includes their emotional experience, has not been clarified. That is particularly important when attempting to understand conflict within a society during a transitional period. Regarding this point, research on the autobiographic manuscript written by the subject includes abundant material that should be studied. Mr. Rugut, the migrant, grew up in a village on Mt. Elgon. Followed his elder cousin brothers, he joined a primary school, though schooling was intermittent. He drifted from his mothers relatives’ place to place when he was still a boy because his parents are not in good terms. After parents’ terms improved, he grew his eagerness to schooling until he got tired about national exam procedure in Uganda. He got chance to migrate to Western Kenya when he was 20 years old, then he proceeded TTC via Secondary school in there. To focus the point (1) and (2) above, we can explore how a person gets aspiration of social mobility in the spread period of public education. The aim of this paper is to portray, at a more concrete level, the tense relationships these aspirations cause within families and how such adolescent who aggressively strive for educational opportunities overcome this tension.

5. ‘Aligning different worlds’ Transnational entrepreneurship by young Ghanaian return migrants

Author: Amanda Haarman, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.

This paper is set against the background of the contemporary return migration of young Africans in the Diaspora. Booming African economies and a mix of patriotism and nostalgia have encouraged them to move back since the early 2000’s (Wong 2014). Unlike previous generations, who were engaged in post-colonial nation building through the public sector, this new generation returns with an entrepreneurial spirit and a belief in the private sector as the way forward for their countries (Avle 2014).

The paper seeks to advance our understanding of the outcomes of migration and mobility for young African returnees. It examines their entrepreneurial practices to understand how the migration experience and the resulting transnational affinity and affiliation shapes business opportunities. Employing Bourdieu’s theory of practice (1977) and his key concept of habitus, the paper presents a unique inquiry into how returnee identities, networks, and practices are tied to multiple locations (Sinatti 2011) and how this potentially offers a commercial advantage (Drori, Honig, and Wright 2009).

This is explored through a qualitative case study of Ghanaian returnees in their late 20s and early 30s who operate an enterprise in the creative industry in Accra or Kumasi. The findings demonstrate that living abroad from a young age and being exposed to different cultures, people, and mentalities, allows the emergence of a transnational habitus (Nedelcu 2012, 1346). This transnational habitus implies changed identities and perspectives (e.g. ‘third country kids’, ‘citizens of the world’) that have enabling and constraining effects on running their businesses in Ghana. Their stories disclose how they thrive in the international sphere, but struggle on local grounds. It illuminates how belonging to different worlds creates entrepreneurial opportunities, yet complicates doing business locally. The paper thereby offers a unique insight into a vibrant and emerging community of transnational returnee entrepreneurs in an African context.

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