Out-migration and its effects in West Africa

Workshop on the social and economic impacts of migration in the countries of origin

April 03, 2018

On 12 and 13 April a workshop titled “Those Who Stay: how out-migration affects West African societies“ will be held at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. Organized by the research group “Integration and Conflict along the Upper Guinea Coast“ headed by Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Knörr, the workshop is dedicated to a little-researched topic: how years of emigration have affected the lives of the people in West Africa. The workshop will be held in English.

Migration: little research on the home countries
Public discourse about international migration is dominated by a concern about what negative effects this may have for Europe. Consequently, researchers have devoted extensive attention to topics like the current state of affairs and the possibility of integration, or the effects of migration on the welfare state, the political system, and civil society. “However, we know comparatively little about the social, economic, political, cultural, and demographic consequences of large-scale out-migration on migrants’ countries of origin in the so-called Global South,” explains Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Knörr, head of the research group “Integration and Conflict along the Upper Guinea Coast” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. “Therefore, we have invited 22 specialists on West Africa to discuss migration-related research on countries like Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.”

Emigration of skilled workers and circulation of knowledge
It was long assumed that the effects of migration on African societies were primarily negative. For the migrants are often young adults in search of new opportunities in Europe and North America, but also other countries in Africa, young adults whose work power is assumed not to benefit their societies of origin in case of out-migration. “This is still an important observation,” says Knörr. “But anthropological field research in West African countries has shown that the situation is actually more complex: there’s more than just brain drain. On the contrary – we have learned that emigrants often give something back to their families and their country. Not just in the form of money, but also professional and political know-how.” It would be false to assume that migration severs all ties between the people who leave and those who stay. For example, a study about doctors and medical personnel who emigrated from Ghana has shown that many of these professionals regularly return to Ghana for a time in order to assist in providing medical services.

Uncharted territory: migration within Africa
It is also not true that most Africans migrate to countries outside Africa. Knörr explains: “Migration within Africa far exceeds migration to Europe or North America. Not all refugees or migrants have the resources necessary to travel to the so-called Global North.” Still, the fact remains: migration has left significant marks on most African countries. “Nearly every family has someone who has left or plans to leave,” says Knörr. There is no doubt that such large-scale movement has a tremendous effect on all areas of life. However, this does not mean that the effects are only negative. “At the workshop we want to start by focusing on the empirical facts and analysing the social, cultural, and material exchanges that develop as a result of migration,” says Knörr.

Studying global social change
The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the world’s leading centres for research in socio-cultural anthropology. It was established in 1999 by Chris Hann and Günther Schlee, and moved to its permanent buildings at Advokatenweg 36 in Halle/Saale in 2001. Marie-Claire Foblets joined the Institute as Director of the department ‘Law & Anthropology’ in 2012.
Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. Fieldwork is an essential part of almost all projects. Some 175 researchers from over 30 countries currently work at the Institute. In addition, the Institute also hosts countless guest researchers who join in the scholarly discussions.

Workshop programme

More information about the research group “Integration and Conflict along the Upper Guinea Coast (West Africa)”

Contact for this press release
Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Knörr
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Department ‘Integration and Conflict’
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-128
E-mail: knoerr@eth.mpg.de

PR contact
Stefan Schwendtner
Press and Public Relations
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-425
E-mail: schwendtner@eth.mpg.de

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