Town2Town Understanding the "soft" infrastructures of transnational mobilities between secondary cities in West Africa


Venue: 3rd Floor Seminar Room, International House

Time: 2pm  Date: Wednesday 15th May 2019


Infrastructures facilitate and regulate the circulation of people, goods, capital, and information. While the hard infrastructures of roads, rails, air spaces, or waterways in West Africa generally lack the smoothness of the global North, the soft infrastructures of personal networks, brokers, and gatekeepers are fundamental to the organization of social life in the world’s poorer regions. In African cities, urban dwellers rely on such connections and alliances in their search for livelihood options. Along both regional and trans-continental migratory routes, access to transportation, labour permits, visas, and work are provided by a range of actors connecting migrants to hard infrastructures, and the formal institutions they represent.

While the efforts and ingenuity required to construct and maintain such soft infrastructures have been increasingly acknowledged in research on urban Africa, the scholarly attention to the connections and alliances that facilitate mobility and migration has generally been limited to the study of clandestine migration and trafficking, which constitutes but a fraction of the movements that African migrants undertake. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research in Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire, the presentation offers a set of conceptual reflections on the soft infrastructures of regional labour migration in the wider Sahel region in West Africa.