The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Well-Being

The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Well-Being

The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Well-Being

The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Well-Being

Synopsis

The Wherewithal of Life engages with current developments in the anthropology of ethics and migration studies to explore in empirical depth and detail the life experiences of three young men - a Ugandan migrant in Copenhagen, a Burkina Faso migrant in Amsterdam, and a Mexican migrant in Boston - in ways that significantly broaden our understanding of the existential situations and ethical dilemmas of those migrating from the global south. Michael Jackson offers the first biographically based phenomenological account of migration and mobility, providing new insights into the various motives, tactics, dilemmas, dreams, and disappointments that characterize contemporary migration. It is argued that the quandaries of African or Mexican migrants are not unique to people moving between 'traditional' and 'modern' worlds. While more intensely felt by the young, seeking to find a way out of a world of limited opportunity and circumscribed values, the experiences of transition are familiar to us all, whatever our age, gender, ethnicity or social status - namely, the impossibility of calculating what one may lose in leaving a settled life or home place; what one may gain by risking oneself in an alien environment; the difficulty of striking a balance between personal fulfillment and the moral claims of kinship; and the struggle to know the difference between 'concrete' and 'abstract' utopias (the first reasonable and worth pursuing; the second hopelessly unattainable).

Excerpt

In the Summer of 2005, en route from Denmark to the United States to take up yet another visiting academic position, I decided to break my journey in London to look up Sierra Leonean friends and document some of their experiences of living betwixt and between. One cloudless morning, I accompanied Sewa Koroma on a circuitous tour of the West End, revisiting the sites of critical events during his first year in the city. At one point, we stopped on Westminster Bridge to take in the view. Tourist boats were moving up and down the river, whose muddy banks had been exposed by the ebbing tide. Ahead of us lay County Hall, where I had been interviewed for a job as a welfare worker with the homeless in the winter of 1963—a lifetime ago, it seemed, before the London Eye, the Gherkin, and Millennium Bridge were built, before Sewa was born. Suddenly, as if he were also struggling with similar anachronisms, Sewa exclaimed, “You know, Mr. Mike, I am thinking that right now my brothers and cousins are all working on their farms back home in Kondembaia, working hard, but I am here in London, walking these streets, living this life, this different life.” When I pressed Sewa to spell out the difference between life in his natal village and life in London, he explained that, although the menial jobs he did in the United Kingdom were very poorly paid, they were preferable to farming. While farming involved a repetition of age-old patterns, London offered perennial possibilities of something different, something new. Yet the life he had left behind haunted him. He was often “seized” by homesickness. It “took hold” of him and would not let him go. He would wake at night to dreams of fraternal infighting, and even though he learned to assuage them by praying to Allah in the way his father had taught him, he struggled to reconcile family obligations with personal ambitions and often felt “small,” “stared at,” and . . .

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