Representations of Migration and Return in Nigerian Cultural Production

Led by Jørgen Carling

Jan 2017 – Jul 2019



Migrants navigate not only legal structures, but also socio-cultural norms and expectations. As part of a larger effort to examine migration management from below, we investigate how migration and return are represented in Nigerian cultural production. The primary focus is on return to Nigeria, but this topic is situated within broader themes of migration and transnationalism.

Migration is already a prominent theme in studies of literature, film and other media but integration with migration research in the social sciences has been limited. The literature on return migration highlights the importance of culturally embedded values for the prospect and experience of return. Going back to one's country of origin is not only a physical event with legal and economic implications, but a cultural act with inherent meanings. The notion of 'coming home', in particular, highlights the reference point of being welcomed and embraced, and the potential dissonance with lived experiences. Humanities-oriented research can illuminate the fine line between ridicule and respect for the returnee. The figure of the returnee from Europe is highly ambivalent in African societies, reflected in culturally-specific stereotypes such as the modou-modou and the been-to. On the one hand, migrants are celebrated and revered for their successes and for the cultural authority imbued by their mobility. On the other hand, they are susceptible to being seen as insincere and shallow, focused on nurturing appearances of superiority. For the returnee, the process of re-entering the society of origin thus has an element of typecasting. The challenge of managing one's return, and the conditions under which it takes place, needs to be analysed in this perspective.

The work within the sub-project will consist in analysing Nigerian films, popular music, and literature with respect to representations of migrants and their return to Nigeria. Migration, cosmopolitanism, and return are common themes in all three forms of expression. Film, popular music, and literature complement each other not only in their form, but also in their perspectives. Nigerian literature has a prominent place in world literature and a readership that includes the European and North American mainstream. Many notable Nigerian authors live fully or partly abroad and draw upon personal experience in writing about migration. Nigerian films (Nollywood productions) have a primarily African audience, in Nigeria, across Africa and in the diaspora. A number of Nollywood films have engaged specifically with migration to Europe, prostitution and trafficking.

The analysis will be influenced by the researchers' social-science perspective and objectives. The primary purpose is not to deepen understandings of Nigerian cultural production, but rather to draw upon this production for understanding the socio-cultural parameters of migration experiences. In this way the research complements more conventional social-science approaches such as interviews and participant observation.

This is a sub-project of 'Transnationalism from above and below: Migration management and how migrants manage (MIGMA)', an interdisciplinary research project based at the Department of Criminology and Law, University of Oslo.

An error has occurred. This application may no longer respond until reloaded. An unhandled exception has occurred. See browser dev tools for details. Reload 🗙