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Argonauts of West Africa

Unauthorized Migration and Kinship Dynamics in a Changing Europe

Argonauts of West Africa

Unauthorized Migration and Kinship Dynamics in a Changing Europe

Examines the paradoxes of kinship in the lives of unauthorized African migrants as they struggle for mobility, employment, and citizenship in Europe.

In rapidly changing and highly precarious contexts, unauthorized African migrants turn to kinship in search of security, stability, and predictability. Through the exchange of identity documents between “siblings,” assistance in obtaining such documentation through kinship networks, and marriages that provide access to citizenship, new assemblages of kinship are continually made and remade to navigate the shifting demands of European states. These new kinship relations, however, often prove unreliable, taking on new, unexpected dynamics in the face of codependency; they become more difficult to control than those who enter into such relations can imagine. Through unusually close ethnographic work in West African migrant communities in Amsterdam, Apostolos Andrikopoulos reveals the unseen dynamics of kinship through shared papers, the tensions of race and gender that develop in mutually beneficial marriages, and the vast, informal networks of people, information, and documentation on which migrants rely. Throughout Argonauts of West Africa, Andrikopoulos demonstrates how inequality, exclusionary practices, and the changing policies of an often-violent state demand innovative ways of doing kinship to successfully navigate complex migration routes.


“In this sophisticated, original, and wonderfully detailed ethnography of migrants’ lives, Andrikopoulos shows how the creative possibilities of kinship provide a highly flexible resource for migrants to ‘craft’ documented selves and settle in Europe. In so doing, he illuminates both the expansive and generative possibilities of kinship and its continued pertinence as a means of resisting state efforts to control migration and citizenship.”

Janet Carsten, University of Edinburgh

“A lively account of how undocumented migrants in Amsterdam use kinship as they seek to establish themselves in the context of the Dutch state’s efforts to control immigration and increasing migrant precarity. With its detailed narratives, fresh perspectives, and important research, Argonauts of West Africa will be of interest to scholars of Africa, Europe, and migration—and, of course, kinship.”

Jennifer Cole, coeditor of Affective Circuits: African Migrations to Europe and the Pursuit of Social Regeneration

“This is a fascinating ethnography of West African nimble-footedness. It explores and explains ties and thirsts that defy the European logic and practice of containment of mobility and the incompleteness that fuels it.”

Francis B. Nyamnjoh, University of Cape Town

Table of Contents

1 Navigating Kinship
2 Unauthorized Identity Craft
3 “Working with My Sister’s Papers”
4 Dying Relations?
5 Marriage, Love, and Inequality
Conclusion      Unpredictable Dynamics of Kinship
Appendix: Trust and Ethics

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