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Reinterpreting the Rural–Urban Connection: Migration Practices and Socio-Cultural Dispositions of Buhera Workers in Harare

  • Jens A. Andersson

Abstract

In the academic debate on labour migration and urbanisation in Southern Africa the persistence of links between urban workers and people in rural areas has proved a pertinent issue. As is implied by the term labour migration, economic forces have always been regarded as a major determinant of migratory behaviour. State-centred perspectives have dominated studies of rural–urban migration in Zimbabwe, where a restrictive legal framework regulated migration to urban centres during the colonial era in an attempt to prevent large numbers of Africans becoming permanent town dwellers. This ethnographic study of labour migrants in Harare originating from the Buhera district, however, shifts away from perspectives that reduce migratory behaviour to an effect of state intervention and/or economic forces. Such external forces are mediated by migrants’ networks that encompass both rural and urban localities. Rather than being only economically motivated, individual migrants’ participation in these networks has to be understood as an expression of a socio-cultural pattern in which rural identification and kinship ideology are of major importance. Viewing migration practices in this way—i.e. as observable outcomes of migrants’ socio-cultural dispositions—not only helps us to understand better the preferences that motivate economic behaviour but also challenges conventional perspectives in which the rural and urban are often viewed as distinct social worlds and the urbanisation process as part of a wider evolutionary development or transition towards a modern class society.

Dans le débat académique sur la migration de la main-d'œuvre et l'urbanisation en Afrique australe, la persistance des liens entre les travailleurs urbains et les habitants de zones rurales s'est avérée être une question pertinente. Comme l'implique le terme «migration de la main-d'œuvre», les forces économiques ont toujours été considérées comme un élément déterminant majeur du comportement migratoire. Les perspectives centrées sur l'État ont dominé les études sur la migration rurale-urbaine au Zimbabwe, où un cadre juridique restrictif régulait la migration vers les centres urbains au cours de la période coloniale pour tenter d'empêcher un nombre important d'Africains de devenir des citadins permanents. Cette étude ethnographique d'ouvriers originaires du district de Buhera immigrés à Harare s'éloigne cependant des perspectives qui réduisent le comportement migratoire à un effet de l'intervention étatique et/ou des forces économiques. Ces forces extérieures sont canalisées par des réseaux de migrants qui englobent à la fois des localités rurales et des localités urbaines. Il faut comprendre la participation des migrants individuels à ces réseaux non pas seulement comme une démarche dont les motivations sont économiques, mais comme l'expression d'un modèle socioculturel dans lequel l'identification rurale et l'idéologie de la parenté ont une importance majeure. Cette faon de voir les pratiques migratoires, autrement dit comme des résultats observables des inclinations socioculturelles des migrants, non seulement aide à mieux comprendre les préférences qui motivent le comportement économique, mais aussi remet en question les perspectives conventionnelles dans lesquelles le rural et l'urbain sont souvent considérés comme des mondes sociaux distincts et le processus d'urbanisation comme faisant partie d'une évolution ou transition plus large vers une société de classe moderne.

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Reinterpreting the Rural–Urban Connection: Migration Practices and Socio-Cultural Dispositions of Buhera Workers in Harare

  • Jens A. Andersson

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