A social negotiation of hope: male West African youth, ‘waithood’ and the pursuit of social becoming through football

2017-02-20T14:13:26Z (GMT) by Christian Ungruhe James Esson
This paper examines the present-day perception among boys and young men in West Africa that migration through football offers a way to achieve social standing and improve one’s life chances. More specifically, we use the case of aspirant young Ghanaian footballers as a lens to qualify recent conceptualizations of African youth, such as ‘waithood’, which have a tendency to overlook the multifarious attempts and visions of young people on the continent to overcome social immobility. Drawing on various and long-term ethnographic fieldwork among footballers in urban southern Ghana between 2010 and 2016, we argue that young people’s efforts to make it abroad and ‘become a somebody’ through football is not merely an individual fantasy; it is rather a social negotiation of hope. It is this collective practice among a large cohort of young males – realistic or not – which qualifies conceptualizations of youth transitions such as ‘waithood’. By this, we highlight how examining the contemporary fusion of sport with a desire to migrate furthers our understandings of social mobility for West African youth, and extends literature on the strategies used by young people in the region as they try to bypass the structural barriers blocking their path to ‘becoming a somebody’.