This paper explores the local meaning of migration and the experience of immobility amongst young men of Soninke ethnicity in a village in the Kayes region of Mali. Soninke communities in Kayes are characterised by a “culture of migration”; increasingly since the 1950s, Soninke men from this region have supported local households and contributed to local development by working as labour migrants in France. This paper explicates how young Soninke men’s aspirations to migrate internationally relate to the structural and cultural features of the local Soninke community. The analysis focuses upon young men who aspire to migrate but who – for political or other reasons – are unable to do so, resulting in a condition of “involuntary immobility”. The paper shows how these young men construct their social identities in the context of immobility. While some seek out alternative forms of livelihood that are not based on international migration, most young men devote their time to socialising in groups called “grins”. In the grins, they reinvent youth culture, contest hegemonic notions of social becoming, and attempt to connect to an imagined world of global flows that these “immobile” youngsters are otherwise cut off from.
Keywords: Migration aspirations, culture of migration, immobility, Soninke, West Africa, youth, anthropology