Open to doctoral students based at universities within the U.S. and first-year doctoral students based at universities in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Workshop dates:

May 19 – 24, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

September 25 – 29, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa 

This field focuses on migration as a form of individual and collective empowerment in contexts of economic and physical precarity. Examining movements primarily within and from Africa, it considers mobility as both a response to and transforming agent of acute socio-political and economic uncertainty in sending and receiving sites. Whereas predominant framings of displacement underscore disempowerment, our premise is that whatever its motivation—ecological uncertainty, violence, poverty, or persecution—human mobility fundamentally represents an ‘empowerment strategy’ through which people actively work to ameliorate their condition. Mobility from and within situations of precarity can transform opportunity structures, redistribute resources across time and space, and generate new meanings that are both intended and unforeseen. The consequences are often far reaching, not only for migrants, but also for dependents left behind and for those with whom they live near and interact where they settle.

This field is a direct response to a literature on African migration and displacement which conceptualizes movement almost exclusively as a ‘rupture’ that disconnects people from broader socioeconomic and political processes and objectives. While our field draws from research on transnationalism, integration/incorporation, and labor migration, it embeds these processes and patterns within environments characterized by on-going violence, harassment, social fluidity and economic uncertainty. Such precarious contexts may include urban or rural Africa, or more broadly the diasporas within which undocumented and socio-economically marginalized African migrants live. At root here are questions of how migrants mobilize at the individual and collective levels to negotiate and transform these conditions towards their initial or emerging objectives.

We invite applications from students who wish to investigate how migrants transform political, economic, social and/or cultural fields of power and relations. We are especially interested in projects that explore how migrants mobilize through family and community networks, political organizations and unions, alliances between themselves and with natives, and other forms of organization. Such research can focus on how migrant activism intersects spheres of social and institutional regulation on multiple levels, taking into account: inter-ethnic and racial identities; nationalisms, class, gender, and inter-generational relations; national and local policies and political power structures; relations between markets and polities; public debates about ethnic and racial diversity and the politics of memory; or other aspects of markets and polities affected by migrant empowerment. Through workshop discussions we will explore how recognizing mutually generative relationship between mobility and power can provide grounds for a critical re-interrogation of concepts useful in understanding mobility, empowerment, and transformation, such as identity, place, community, law, social capital, and power.

Africa provides the backdrop that informs much of the organizers’ own empirical research and we seek participants whose work focuses primarily on mobility in and from Africa or on comparative research referencing African cases. We seek projects based on the collection or analysis of empirical data, especially those that include both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Although we anticipate that the disciplines most relevant to this seminar will be sociology, political science, anthropology, history, and geography we welcome the perspectives of other social science and humanities disciplines. Priority will be given to projects that marshal either cross-national comparisons or single case studies that are cast against a broader empirical literature, in order to speak innovatively and critically to theoretical debates and themes that draw attention from a multi-disciplinary audience.



  • Jessica Luffman Anderson

    George Washington University, Political Science

    Navigating Kenya’s local ownership debate: Understanding interests and tactics among Somali refugees
    States increasingly invoke local ownership, a value championed by aid agencies, and carry out policies contrary to the interests and preferences of humanitarian and protection organizations. The tension between the interests of local owners and international interveners has become more pronounced in stronger African states, such as Kenya. And yet, the beneficiaries in these contexts are not 'locals' – they are refugees. Local owners exercise their agency to determine the fate of yet another population. This reality, and how refugees navigate it, has been eclipsed by the local ownership literature to date. This gap leads to several, related questions: What are the effects for Somali migrants of the local ownership debate and competing NGO and state interests in Kenya? How do refugees recast or engage with this relationship; what are their own tactics and priorities? And finally, are there normative gaps this case might highlight in the existing local ownership literature?
  • Lindsay E. Bayham

    University of California / Berkeley, Sociology

    Friends in Far Places: Migration Networks, Perceived Social Support, and Economic Resilience Strategies in Ghana
    My research project examines how widespread migration affects the perceived social support networks and economic resilience strategies of relatives and friends remaining in a host country. Focusing on the individual as a site of social transformation, I ask how widespread migration affects "left behind" individuals' perceptions of wealth distribution and social support, and examine how these perceptions affect individuals' actual resilience strategies in times of economic hardship. Using Ghana—a country with a long history of emigration and well-developed migrant networks—as a case study, I will compare perceptions of wealth and resilience among Ghanaians with and without migrant connections, using social network analysis, cognitive social network mapping, and economic transactions diaries to compare perceived social support networks with actual exchanges of support. To contextualize my data, I will also analyze broadly circulating narratives of migration to assess how these narratives may affect individual strategies of resilience.
  • Morgan L.C. Buck

    City University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center, Earth and Environmental Sciences

    Mobile Landscapes: Migration, Social Reproduction, and Peri-Urban Space in Ghana, 1980–present
    The unprecedented explosion of informal settlements is perhaps the most pressing issue facing Africa and the global South today. From the UN to scholars and popular writers around the world, the overlap between peri-urban space and contemporary urban informality has been established as central to what now is undoubtedly a definitive moment in urban development around the world. A great deal of recent scholarship in Africa has focused on the proliferation of informal settlements, particularly in peri-urban space surrounding rapidly-expanding urban centers. As conditions of informality, precarity, and crisis continue to sweep the continent, these studies are poised to be increasingly relevant over the next decades. Despite many studies offering a great deal of insight into this phenomenon, the vast majority of accounts of both informality of peri-urban settlement remain largely descriptive, overlooking the ways in which these unprecedented transformations are linked to larger processes of economic restructuring, particularly in rural areas. Through the politically engaged study of social reproduction and the production of space in rural migrant communities living in informal settlements in peri-urban Ghana, I aim to produce a critical geography of rural and urban development in postcolonial Africa. Using a range of archival, ethnographic, and spatial methods, I will enable deeper understandings of the day-to-day practices, provisions, and livelihoods of the people and communities that contribute to the production of peri-urban space. I thus aim to contribute to an alternative narrative, historically and politically nuanced, of the development and persistence of both informal settlement and peri-urban life.
  • Kankonde Peter Bukasa

    University of the Witwatersrand, Social Sciences

    The Business of Integration: Migration, Xenophobia, and Migrants' Pentecostal Churches' Legitimating Strategies in Post-Apartheid South Africa
    This study investigates, the legitimating strategies employed by migrant religious organizations and leaders in order to gain and maintain local membership and ensure the survival and social reproduction of their churches. Existing research on xenophobia, migrants' integration, migrants' disempowerment, their survival strategies in host settings, social capital, etc, tend all to focus on human individual migrants. None has examined how organizations created by migrants are able to survive and manage to attract local members in societies where migrants themselves face open hostility like South Africa. This is the intended scholarly contribution of this project. This work differs from existing studies in that I approach religious organizations not as neutral social spaces where social phenomena take place, but as dynamic organizational entities that can act independently of their individual members to mobilize legitimacy, resources and thus contribute to integration and social cohesion. In doing so, they make themselves compelling to local populations irrespective of negative stereotypes against migrants. Due to the constant reshaping of its fragmented social fabric resulting from the apartheid legacy and high rates of human mobility, South Africa makes a strong and interesting case study as generating legitimacy and authority in such society is difficult for any organization where new arrivals enter cites with few shared institutions or stable social configurations.
  • Odette Murara

    University of the Western Cape, Anthropology and Sociology

    Negotiating Differences and Belonging: Experiences of Great Lakes region migrants in Cape Town, South Africa.
    This study explores the experiences of Great Lakes region migrants in Cape Town, South Africa, particularly on the ways in which they negotiate with and their differences away from 'home'. The study specifically focuses on Rwandans, Congolese from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundians.The logic in selection of this group is partly because of their shared history and ethinicities which are of particular interest as to how they negotiate them in South Africa. The assumption is that migrants find difficulties in engaging with their differences among themselves and with locals which might pose threats to and of belonging, inclusion and exclusion . Therefore the question which guides this research is , how do such migrants understudy deal with such differences in an fragmented migrant community. The proposed study employs qualitative research methodology through ethnographic tools such as life histories, and 'deep-hanging out' in their social spaces.
  • Lucy E. Odigie

    American University, Communications

    Voices from the margin: Analyzing the role of Digital Communication in creating spaces of Empowerment, Identity & Community for W. African immigrant Domestic Workers
    West African domestic workers in New York City exemplify the situation of precarity faced by many African immigrants; their combined status as black immigrants, isolated domestic workers and women leave them vulnerable to discrimination, alienation and exploitation. Despite this narrative of disempowerment, preliminary research reveals that these women are developing creative empowerment strategies using new digital communication. My study focuses on the digital communication as a tool in the empowerment strategy of West African domestic workers in New York City. The study seeks to map, at the micro-level, the ways in which immigrants are using digital technology in culturally and socially oriented ways to improve their working and living conditions. Objectives of the study are to (1) identify and document the digital spaces created by the W. African domestic workers and (2) analyze the role that the digital spaces are playing in this particular community perception of identity, community, and empowerment.
  • Stephen Robert Pentz

    University of Witswatersrand, Anthropology

    Healing the Divide: migration, urbanity and traditional African healing
    Traditional African healers across Africa see themselves as belonging to distinct intellectual traditions that, despite the misnomer in the word 'traditional', are constantly undergoing critique, modification and change as healers engage with the demands of modernity. Moreover, 'traditional' healing offers an entry point into the South African economy for many foreign African migrants, and as such, foreign yet familiar forms of healing intersect with local understandings of affliction, health and wellbeing. The research intends to explore how traditional African forms of healing from outside South Africa makes claims to legitimacy, authenticity and autochthony within Johannesburg's urban, pluralist health environment. It seeks to understand the nature of the relationship between local forms of healing and healing from outside South Africa. Lastly, within the context of new policies around the re-engineering of primary healthcare and the NHI, it will explore how traditional African healing intersects and intertwines with biomedical norms of care
  • Shanna Scherbinske

    University of Washington, Anthropology

    Mapping Transnational Communities: Somali Communities in Kenya and Seattle
    Since the 1991 collapse of Somalia's central government, millions have fled the country. Some remain at refugee camps in Kenya, while others have spread across the globe. Dominant framings depict refugees purely as victims, as passive, disempowered, apolitical recipients of charity, but this characterization fails to recognize both the varied factors that drive migration and the many ways in which refugees respond to these pressures. This project explores strategies that transnational Somali communities deploy in their quests to secure their own livelihoods, and the way(s) in which these connections shape their lives. It is particularly concerned with inter-generational relationships, both within communities here in the US and with communities in Kenya. It is situated in Seattle, Washington and is a collaborative, community-driven project.
  • Derek Sheridan

    Brown University, Anthropology

    Intersecting Precarities?: The life-trajectories, networks and micro-politics of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs in Kampala
    Over the last decade, tens of thousands of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs have settled in towns across Africa. Popular discourses about these migrants turn on whether they empower local consumers or undermine the livelihood of local traders. Their presence complicates dominant assumptions about China in Africa because many of these migrants have come to Africa are themselves in precarious economic positions in the context of the Chinese economy, placing them in a fraught relationship with local actors. In the context of recent claims about the "isolation" of Chinese migrants and increasing tensions with their host society, my project will be an extended ethnographic study of a community of Chinese traders and shopkeepers in Kampala, tracing their life histories and trajectories, networks and relationships with other Chinese and Ugandans, the mediation of these relationships and links between the micro-politics of these encounters and both Chinese and Ugandan understandings of "China-in-Africa".
  • Kathryn F. Takabvirwa

    Stanford University, Anthropology

    Points of Contact: Roadblocks and Documents in Zimbabwean Migration
    The Zimbabwean and South African states seek to control the movement of Zimbabweans and by extension, the goods and vehicles they travel with between the two countries, through documents and policing and through roadblocks. Taking roadblocks and documents as both techniques of control, and sites of contact between the migrant and the state, my work examines the exchanges that occur around these. It looks at the ways Zimbabweans 'work' and work around the systems, and the meaning-making involved in these exchanges and circumventions. It moves away from the state-centric and policy-directed approaches that characterize much of the literature on Zimbabwean migration in South Africa, and brings the roadblock in to be studied with passports, permits and IDs. My study attempts at an ethnographic study of migrant agentive practices, and their perceptions. In so doing, it seeks to contribute to understandings of migrants' experience of and response to precarity.
  • Yiying Wang

    George Mason University, Public Policy

    Empowerment of African Migrants and Its Implication on Regional Development--A Comparative Study of Washington Metropolitan Area and Pearl Riverl Delta
    Africa as the world's least developed continent has witnessed increasing labor emigration since its independence. While descriptive statistics on African migration trend is available, few studies have addressed questions including, what is the rationale behind Africans' choices of destinations? What resources do African migrants mobilize to empower themselves? What are the implications of African migrants on regional labor market structure and economic development? This comparative case study uses both quantitative and qualitative research methods to answer these questions. Focusing on two regions—Washington Metropolitan Area and Pearl River Delta—that are in two biggest yet different economies, this study will collect primary data through survey methods. Investigation will be complemented by statistical analysis and mapping based on ACS and BLS datasets. This research has high intellectual merit since it covers a niche topic will generate primary data. It also underscores salience of immigration and labor policies and in global economy.
  • Beth Iams Wellman

    Yale University, Political Science

    South to South: Migration and Citizenship in Developing Democracies
    Current scholarship conceives of transnational migration as primarily a South-to-North phenomenon, focusing on migration to "Global Cities" of North America and Europe. This approach not only fails to consider transnational urban migration within the Global South, but also limits analysis of immigrant politics to within the host country, overlooking political linkages back home. My dissertation asks: how do attachments to home nations and engagement with host nations shape immigrant citizenship? I argue the interaction of sending and receiving countries' citizenship policies, combined with the context of informality, are generating new possibilities for immigrant citizenship. I use ethnography, survey data, and an original dataset of African countries' citizenship policies to compare the experiences of African diasporas living in urban South Africa. This study will shed light on the contemporary challenges of citizenship and integration for other developing democracies that also serve as migration destinations, including Kenya, India and Mexico.