The Nordic Africa Institute


Soft infrastructures: Labour mobilities across and between secondary cities in West Africa

Started • 10 January 2020

This comparative research project explores the mobilities of regional labour migrants through and between urban centres in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Guinea. The study thereby aims to emphasise the circular and transnational dimensions of labour migration, which are often forgotten as national capital cities tend to be seen as the inevitable and final destinations for rural labour migrants. Against this trend, this project identifies secondary cities as central nodes for various forms of mobility, including labour recruitment. The project applies an innovative analytical framework – around the concept of soft infrastructures – which allows for the analytical incorporation of the complexity and flexibility that characterises labour migration in West Africa.

The more specific aims of the project are, therefore, to

  1. identify the primary soft infrastructures that facilitate the recruitment and circulation of labour within formal and informal economic sectors;
  2. understand how urban dwellers plan and practice regional mobility, with particular attention to the aspirations, discourses, and networks that facilitate them;
  3. provide a qualitative analysis of the gendered and generationally stratified mobilities that predominate in the four primary field sites.

The project is based on an anthropological methodology, primarily using in-depth interviewing and informal conversation; participant observation; and the collection of life histories and extended case studies.

The project is funded by a three-year research grant from the Swedish Research Council (VR).

Project leader: Jesper Bjarnesen

Project participants: Cristiano Lanzano and Gabriella Körling