Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Place of Migration in Girls' Imagination

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Place of Migration in Girls' Imagination

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This paper focuses on rural girls' aspirations of becoming migrants and young women's experiences as migrants in a setting where girls are subjected to social constraints curtailing their movements in the midst of an otherwise mobile society. ' The study is set in a chronically poor region in south-eastern Burkina Faso, in which migration to the coastal countries has been an important source of livelihood for several generations. The pervasiveness of migration implies that the young and middle-aged travel to find work; some for a season or two, but many for most of their lifetime though they do not necessarily remain at the same destination.

Most children from this region count on travelling to make a living outside their village at one point in life, usually in their mid- or late teens. The main difference between boys and girls is that boys leave to earn money, gain a bit of autonomy and explore the world and that they sometimes migrate with peers and siblings of a similar age, whereas girls rarely are allowed to migrate on their own. However, the practice of fostering where both girls and boys may be called upon by members of the extended family to help out with different tasks or to be looked after if their parents are in a particularly difficult situation implies that they may migrate with relatives at an early age (Goody, 1982; Isiugo-Abanihe. 1985). Such fostering practices generally are understood as arrangements between adults because the receiving household formally must ask the head of the household of origin for the child ( Alber, 2004; Notermans, 2004; Thorsen, 2005). This tends to obscure children's drive to migrate and their use of established migrants to carry through this wish (Thorsen, 2009). Whilst girls and some boys may accept and, even, pursue becoming unremunerated labor for senior relatives to enable their migration, older girls may choose instead to marry a migrant with the expectation of joining him at the migration destination. As marrying, in local terms, equates the transition from girlhood to womanhood, their becoming a migrant is intimately linked with another important change in girls' social position.

Adolescents' aspirations to becoming migrants are rooted in migrants' representations of being successful. The ways in which images of success and material wealth are absorbed and interpreted by others are premised at the abstract level on the dialectic between a person's manifestation of his or her identity and others' recognition. Drawing on the analysis of theatre and acting, Hastrup (2007) uses the interplays between actors and the characters they enact and the interplays among the actors involved in a play to conceptualise how people as characters are not reducible to occupying ascribed roles in a social structure or to acting completely on their free will. "No characters act in a void," she argues, "we are surrounded by people whose actions exert influence upon the social space and which are therefore, directly or indirectly, party to our characterization" (ibid: 47). Along this line of reasoning, actions are never simply reactions to past events they are also acting upon the anticipation of certain responses. The strength of this theorization is that it combines the structural factors embedded historically in the cultural and social context-the script so to speak-with agency and personal skills to straddle multiple social positions and assert claims on particular identities convincingly and at the right time-playing a part. For adolescent girls in south-eastern Burkina Faso, local conceptualizations of girlhood and transitions to becoming adult women demarcate the broader contours of the script, while the many characters inhabiting their lives in the everyday and on special occasions are decisive for how they concretely act out their own interpretation of what it means to be an adolescent girl or a young woman.

In this paper however, the focus is not only on how a character is enacted but also on its reception. …

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