Author: Veronika Bilger, Albert Kraler.
Bilger, Veronika and Kraler, Albert. 2005. "Introduction: African migrations, Historical perspectives and contemporary dynamics." Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 8 (5): 1-21.
Generally speaking, “migration” in its broadest meaning – spatial mobility – can be regarded as part of the human condition. As with other social processes, forms, scale and directions of migration are heavily influenced by the political, economic, cultural, ecological and the social context in which migration occurs (Bade 2000, 11). Yet, not only are actual processes of migration shaped by broader historical forces; also the way migration (and spatial mobility more generally) is perceived, represented, and thus, socially (re-)constructed is similarly subject to history, or more precisely, historically, geographically and culturally variable “paradigms” of thought as well as specific “traditions” of thought within particular societies or social formations (e.g. science). Often, however, discourses on migration are more than just about migration; rather than employed as a factual reference to a particular more or less well defined social phenomenon, references to migration (or mobility in general) are also made to make sense of the world one lives in, to make political claims, claims over property, claims over one’s social status, and to express one’s own and others’ identities (See Kraler 2005, 4). Thus, neither “mobility” nor “migration” are just empirical categories: they are always also part of wider processes of the production of meaning and thus have important imaginary and symbolical dimensions that neat sociological definitions may ignore, but never entirely dispose of. Current discourses over autochthony and citizenship in various African contexts are a powerful reminder of how narratives over migration and mobility have recently moved to the centre of political discourse and how claims over past or present migrations have turned into a pretext for exclusion (Comaroff/ Comaroff 2001; Geschriere/ Nyamnjoh 2000; Nzongola-Ntalaja 2004).