When generations of labour migrants create and uphold transnational connections, it is often understood to be a family affair. Pioneers send for their children, or pave the way for parents, siblings and more distant relatives, and transnational spaces are maintained through the similar aspirations and trajectories of new generations of migrants. What is less understood is how flexible notions of kinship may be in these contexts. On the basis of a long-standing ethnographic involvement with transnational mobilities between Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire, this article illustrates the ways in which idioms of kinship serve as a central currency for facilitating labour migration and other moves in this region. The analysis emphasises historical continuities in labour mobility between these two countries, vested in local ideals of hospitality and solidarity through the institution of the tutorat in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as the ruptures in these social contracts through the past two decades of political and armed conflict.

Conceptually, the paper suggests that the evocation and maintenance of kinship-like ties, while not established or maintained explicitly to that end, becomes a central currency in facilitating transnational mobility. The article thus adds to the emerging literature on migration brokers and infrastructures by ascribing these kinship-like ties a pivotal role in facilitating the continued mobility within a transnational space. The argument thereby challenges assumptions about the role of the family in transnational migration, and the nature of migrant aspirations, and suggests that Africanist migration research, drawing on a long tradition of highlighting the situatedness, flexibility, and contextuality of social relatedness, may contribute to theoretical refinement of research on migration infrastructures and brokerage.


Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute since September 2013. He did an M.A. in Anthropology and one in African Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, and completed a PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University in 2013. Until 2018, he was a lecturer in the Network on Humanitarian Action International Association of Universities (NOHA). Bjarnesen has worked primarily on the grey zones between forced and voluntary migration in West Africa, in the context of the 2002-2011 civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. Within this context, his research has considered the generational variations of displacement; the dynamics of integration among urban youths; and the broader themes of urban resettlement and transnational families. His current research focuses, firstly, on the effects of migration governance in terms of the in/visibilities produced by specific legal statuses and, secondly, on labour mobilities across and between secondary cities in West Africa. With Franzisca Zanker, he is the co-founder of the African Migration, Mobility and Displacement (AMMODI) research network.