The Making of Ordinary Imaginations of Europe Between France and Mali: Migrants’ Letters and Domestic Archives
Dr. Aïssatou Mbodj
The aim of this project is to investigate how imaginations of Europe are fuelled by images, objects and discourses circulating between France and Mali. How do letters, photos, videos, cassettes, and gifts tell specific stories about Europe and migration? How are these commodities embedded in narratives of migration and of the distant places they come from? How do the story of these objects travel and what kind of discourses draw upon them?
These discourses and images will be analyzed at two levels: firstly, as discursive and visual material providing representations of Europe, designed by the migrants in ways that need to be documented; secondly, as objects locally appropriated, sometimes contested, in family memories and representations of the outside.
The basic methodological approach will be to raise informal discussions with migrants in France as well as with people “at home” on migration, absence and return. I will scrutinize how objects and letters are called upon within the narratives, as well as where and how those objects are kept: are photographs displayed, or carefully kept in albums or plastic bags? How are letters stored, if they are? And do these distinct sources give similar views, raise similar narratives and comments? How are they supplemented by other personal information (phone-calls; mails) and wider circulating discourses and images (TV etc.)?
Dealing with writings and objects that document migration over decades, this research will touch on the issue of the memory of migration, in the context of a political will, in France as in other European countries, to "patrimonialise" this part of history. It departs from this general move by its ethnographic stance, aiming to approach how individuals and community themselves deal with these issues.
Ethnography will be conducted through interviews and observations in Paris and in Bamako and possibly other places in Mali. The first fieldwork site will be migrants’ residences in Paris. At a further stage, the investigation will extend to Mali, through the network of the participants of the project. The idea is to take a historical look at these processes and at the series of images of Europe throughout several generations. The ambition is to capture a changing infrastructure of memory and representations of Europe from the first important wave of Malian migrants in the 1970s to the present time.