26. Migrant Genealogies: Narratives, History and Relatedness

E-mail of the panel organisers: lisa.akesson@nai.uu.se, jesper.bjarnesen@nai.uu.se

Close ties of relatedness play a key role for narratives of mobility. Migrants share their experiences with significant others, and when stories are shared they are also created and recreated. In particular, individuals’ narratives of mobility are mediated by how these stories relate to other family members’ migration trajectories and to the way these have been narrated. Sometimes there is a long family (hi)story of migration which strongly influences the narratives of individual family members. There may be a genealogy of migration that includes successive movements to different places at different times, and includes several generations.

Narratives about mobility tend to focus on vital conjunctures, or key events, that are of importance for the creation of identities as well as for projects of life-making. Life-making is associated with livelihood, but it also signifies efforts of transforming an unfulfilling life into a potentially fulfilled one. Creation of identities and projects of life-making are, in turn, intimately tied to relatedness. Stories of migration therefore unfold in relation to the trajectories of significant others.

This panel is particularly focusing on how narratives of mobility are shaped in relation to migrant genealogies, and how individuals’ narratives are shaped by family histories of migration. It also explores narratives and migration from other perspectives, for instance in relation to vital conjunctures, projects of life-making and relatedness. The panel will dicsuss narratives and migration from a methodological perspective.


1. “Have you ever seen a plane seat before?” Migration and mobility narratives among university students in Ghana

Author: Kajsa Hallberg Adu (University of Ghana, University College, Ghana)


In this paper, I want to discuss migration and mobility narratives of university students based on a series of focus group discussions held at University of Ghana (a major public university) and Ashesi University College (a small liberal arts college) in Ghana. My interest is in undergraduate students, a group that is largely overlooked in migration studies. To understand why and how students migrate out of Africa, I argue an Africanist or decolonial view must be applied. One way of doing that is letting African students themselves explain the phenomenon. Another aspect is to contextualize Ghanaian university students’ migration narratives and include a critical view of knowledge production in the world (Dei 2010, Gatsheni 2013, Grosfoguel 2011).
My results suggest that while most students consider international migration in their projects of life-making, a share of them instead expressed strong aspirations not to migrate based on a mix of family and cultural reasons. I found that parents, but also religious leaders and lecturers play a role in shaping migration aspirations. Students mention, and critique, the strong “norm” to migrate aligned with literature on cultures of migration. Students also discussed receiving direct information from friends and relatives abroad over VOIP and social media channels – new important avenues for narratives of migration.   Although students in general are well informed about the steps for migration, many do not own a passport, suggesting the aspiration is not always backed by preparations. Interestingly, several students suggest lower-educated individuals are more likely to have a strong aspiration to migrate – I construe this as form of “othering”, not previously found in the literature.

2. Songs of Migration: Narratives and Experiences of Migration, Place-Making and Identity Negotiation Among Zimbabwean Migrants in London

Author: Lennon Mhishi (University of London, UK)


A lot of emphasis has been placed on the economic and political sources and ramifications of Zimbabwean migration post-2000. It is however important to not let such predominantly political and economic considerations become overarching in ways that obfuscate the historical, as well as complex cultural elements that have accompanied dispersion and experiences of (un)belonging by Zimbabwean migrants. Drawing insights from the (auto)ethnographic study I am undertaking amongst Zimbabweans in London, I seek to use music as  a vehicle to providing a “cultural lens” into narratives and experiences of migrancy. The thrust is to acknowledge and explore the historical and contemporaneous trajectories of Zimbabwean migration to Britain that have existed before, and continue to exist regardless of, or in the midst of, the socio-economic and political crisis that pervades the dominant narratives of such migration. This establishes possibilities for an intergenerational understanding which encompasses those who moved from Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe in 1980, to the present. Zimbabweans in Britain have been, and continue to be part of transnational circuits and circulations of African and other migrant and diasporic forms of music. From consuming various types of music, to touring artists from Zimbabwe, as well as relationships with other African artists and communities, stories of migration emerge, which do not exclude, yet transcend the images of crisis and abjection that have recently been at the forefront.

3. Movement Across Closed Borders: Narratives of Ethiop-Eritrean Migrants’ Transnational Journey to Sweden

Author: Tekalign Ayalew Mengiste (Stockholm University, Sweden)


This paper explores Ethiop-Eritrean migrants’ transnational journeys and entry mechanisms to Sweden. Sweden has been one of major destinations for various types of Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants. However, the strict immigration policies and border controls in the European Union (EU) in general and in Sweden in particular make formal entry mechanisms difficult. Hence, drawing their own capabilities and agency as well as establishing new networks and using existing ones, many of migrants are reported to be using dangerous journey across the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea via the Sudan, Libya, and Italy.  Others use study and provisions of ‘family unification’ channels. Migration through such methods and routes has become a culture and a project of life making for various types of Ethiop-Eritrean migrants because several generations of migrants have entered and settled in EU in this way since the 1960’ and this is narrated and re-narrated for significant others in everyday occasions. In this ‘irregular migration’ processes, many actors such as former migrants in the diaspora and en route, migration brokers and smugglers and other institutions in different places facilitate it for money and/or social obligations. Global connections through Internet chats and cheaper international phone call further back this up. Hence, as part of my ongoing PhD project (2012-2016) this paper’s point of departure is to explore individuals’ agency and experiences during their migratory journey and entry, which is, in fact, a complex process involving a combination of ‘legalized’ and ‘illegalized’ means; smugglers and helpers; travelers and settled located in multiple spaces. Accordingly the focus is on how resources, information and knowledge are continuously obtained and shared through narratives and practices among migrants in order to manage dangerous and long journeys and other entry strategies to Sweden.

4. Colonial and post-colonial legacies in Eritrea. Remembering ancestors to implement migration strategies

Author: Valentina Fusari (University of Asmara, Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences, Eritrea)


Italian presence in Eritrea can be divided into two main phases: the colonial phase (1890-1941) and the post-colonial one (1942-1975). Following the Derg rise to power, the Italian community decreased in number. The descents of Italians, now including also second and third generations, are an important element not only for the analysis of the Italian social heritage, but also for understanding a particular group of migrants. This community, that stems from the Italian migration during the last XIX and early XIX century, can be divided into two subgroups, identified using the life histories and the life course lines. The first subgroup consists of those who have been recognized and, therefore, have Italian citizenship. The second, however, is the most interesting as from the narratives the Italian origin emerges, but it can not be proved. So these Eritreans are still waiting for their Italian citizenship.
In the Eritrean socio-political landscape, the opportunity of having an alternative citizenship is now a strategy, as it allows people to leave the Country legally, while data show that most of emigration from Eritrea is illegal, even affecting the regional security because of the smuggling of migrants. After the last border conflict with Ethiopia (1998-2000), in addition to the many requests of citizenship got bogged down in bureaucracy, people increased their requests and got going to collect the missing information concerning their ancestors. The explanation behind such requests is not only the opportunity of legal mobility and the acquisition of other rights related to the Italian citizenship, but the main purpose is to avoid several duties, mandatory to obtain the full Eritrean citizenship, such as the long-lasting national service or the recruitment in the Warsay-Yekeallo Development Campaign, that is why the international community accused the Eritrean government of human rights violations.

5. In the presence of the suppressed

Author: Viveca Motsieloa (Uppsala University, Sweden)


“I´ll tell you how I feel, I feel like I´m mixed race”, a black Ghanaian male returnee tells me with a distinct British accent during a family week end with returning migrants of Ghanaian and Caribbean heritage.
To critically explain how a black African may feel “mixed race”, the analysis of discursive practices need to transcend the here and now and uncover the presence of historicity through its absence, disclosing the genealogy of passing as a means of explaining the archaeology of migration.
In this paper I explore in what way whiteness shapes and limits the becomings and orientations of diasporic Ghanaian repatriates as they are embarking on new beginnings in the Ghanaian capital Accra. According to Sara Ahmed migration is best studied through the phenomenon of passing and with her reasoning in mind I explore what whiteness does to the returnees in their emancipatory struggle to feel oriented, or in place, in their country of origin and in relation to the Western world where most of them grew up.
Through an ontological interaction between phenomenology and post-structuralism I discuss migration through the practices of passing as, articulated through the elements of race and class, in an attempt to provide alternative interpretations of the historicity of racism, highlighting how whiteness became an integral part of the Enlightenment project.
The role the Gold Coast in West Africa played, in this political project, through forced and voluntary migration to Europe and the Americas, during the era of Transatlantic slave trading, is central to this discussion. The result of the struggles of who can pass as what conditions the lives of contemporary returnees both in the Western countries and on the African continent leading to multiple positionings, as privileged and stigmatized positions are being lived simultaneously.

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