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The material culture of Senegalese migration and European tourism: evidence of encounter

Researcher: Janine Traber
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Anne Storch, Prof. Nick Shepherd, PD Angelika Mietzner

This research project addresses the material remains of two recent types of migration. By these means, the role of physical objects in an intercultural encounter space shall be explored.

Former colonies have become increasingly popular tourist destinations and it is not rarely especially the ruins of colonialism which turn into sights. Thus, tourism must be understood as central aspect of postcolonial encounters. But it is deeply intertwined with another form of mobility: every year, many people embark on the troublesome and most often dangerous voyage from West Africa towards Europe looking for income opportunities in tourism.


Foto: Janine Traber, 2021


In this research project I will document the influence of tourism on migration from West Africa to Europe by using methods of Material Culture Studies and approaches of Postcolonial Theory. I will examine the architecture, souvenirs and tourist-related services in these sites of encounter with respect to their transformational significance for the process of migration, respectively the being-en-route, as well as connected interactions and emotions. The main research question is, if and to what extent the encounters of migration from West Africa to Europe and European tourism to the Global South can be detected in material culture. Thus, I will look at various material stemming from the encounter space of tourists and migrants. By means of the comparison between several research sites along the main migration routes from Senegal towards the Mediterranean, I will explore how the imagination of the voyage changes along the route and how the arrival in Europe is experienced in return.

In addition, I will investigate the relevance and evidential value of the material component for the discourse of and on migrants. How do migrants and tourists experience their relation to each other and how is it potentially problematised as part of a postcolonial encounter? To which degree is the presence of migrants in the tourist space considered as part of a self-determined range of experiences in for example art events or language performance? Or is it only regarded as part of an appropriate or inappropriate holiday experience by means of the tourist gaze?

It will be examined whether the mode of the quick encounters between tourists and migrants becomes manifested in material as well and if some kind of special impact on it is attributed to the objects.

This way, approaches from contemporary archaeology, African studies, social anthropology and tourism research will be connected to resolve in a critical dispute with their heritage and test their potential for an up-to-date implementation in humanitarian issues. Although the respective disciplines have already developed solid research on their fields of expertise my research project aims at developing an innovative methodology and contributing to recent interdisciplinary theoretical debates. Meanwhile, the project will engage with essential phenomena of capitalism and modernity in regard to their material culture. Thus, a responsible scientific approach with participatory elements towards migration and tourism will be implemented, placing the objects of mobility and encounter in focus.


Funded by a scholarship from the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne, and the Leibniz Prize (Prof. Anne Storch).