Spatial mobility and social becoming: The journeys of four Central African Students in Congo-Kinshasa

This paper follows four Central African students who fled open violence in their country and found refuge in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. By taking a close look at how the students move between Bangui and Kinshasa this paper aims to better understand the decisions made along their pathways and the multiple social transformations they bring about. By illustrating the multiple layers of mobility and by adopting a more variegated reading of the refugee, the article builds on the mobility turn and contributes to the fields of migration and refugee studies (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa), as well as to the debates around social navigation and social becoming among youth in urban settings. As the students move from place to place, the research follows both the trajectories and the decisions the students make during their journeys. This ‘following strategy’ is part of a mobile and multi-sited methodology, where travelling is more than physical movement from one place to another. The paper argues that the transformation the students undergo is processual and plural and that it is socially, relationally, and contextually situated. Different environments call for different social positions or identities—such as becoming a refugee within the parameters of a humanitarian configuration, on the one hand, or turning into an astute city dweller in Kinshasa’s social structures, on the other. By moving spatially and navigating socially, the students envisage futures and create opportunities for themselves in the hope of returning home as respected adults.

This article appeared online in Geoforum on 11 June 2018.

Author(s) / editor(s)

Catherina Wilson

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