University of Georgia graduate student Laura M. Tilghman, under the guidance of Dr. Bram Tucker, will undertake research on the changing nature and importance of linkages between urban migrants and their rural kin. The strong interconnection between village and city has been a longstanding theme of research on African urbanization, and scholars have recently called for more attention to the variation in the linkages migrants engage in, and more systematic analysis of how linkages play into migrants' economic survival strategies. Tilghman will explore these issues in Madagascar, whose isolation as a large island makes an interesting contrast to mainland African studies where internal and international migration are strongly intertwined.

The study is guided by two questions. First, what factors account for variation in how migrants maintain ties, the frequency that they do so, and how they perceive the importance of such linkages? Second, how does the overall strength of migrants' ties with their rural places of origin impact their ability to survive and thrive in the city? These research questions will be analyzed in the context of rural-urban migration in the northeast coast of Madagascar. The study will follow a cohort of 60 migrants, using weekly linkage activity questionnaires, seasonal livelihood and well-being assessments, and regular interviews and participant observation to capture their linkage activities and well-being over the course of 12 months. Focus group interviews with migrants' rural family members will provide additional information and context.

The study contributes to scholarship on both rural-urban linkages and contemporary urban economies. The research will shed light on how aspects of modern African city life, such as entrenched urban poverty, new gender roles, the rising popularity of evangelical Christian faith groups, and the growing reach of the capitalist market economy, may be changing the longstanding ties between cities and villages. The study will also test whether hypotheses positing that linkages are essential for urban survival hold up under more systematic analysis using multidimensional and seasonally-iterated measurements of urban economic well-being. Funding this research also supports the education of a graduate student.

Project Report

This project supported dissertation research by Laura M. Tilghman, a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at the University of Georgia. The project was supervised by Dr. Bram Tucker, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia. The project studied urbanization and migration in Madagascar, a large island nation in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Traditionally in Africa people who migrated from rural areas to live in cities have maintained very strong ties with their home villages and family members there. The general goal of this project was to explore how and why this might be changing in the 21st century. To achieve this general goal, the project tried to answer two main questions: First, what factors might be changing the nature of rural-urban linkages, specifically the frequency that migrants engage in rural activities as well as how they value and perceive them? Are there certain kinds of migrants who maintain only very weak ties with their home villages, or who have broken ties altogether? Second, how do migrants’ rural-urban linkages affect their livelihood resources and outcomes? Are ties to home villages a help or a hindrance for people trying to make a living in the city? To go about answering these questions, Ms. Tilghman spent 18 months in northeastern Madagascar. She focused on migrants who were originally from the rural Vavatenina District and currently living in the country’s second largest city, Tamatave. First, she conducted a large city-wide survey to get general information about the population of migrants from Vavatenina District as a whole, since census and government data is outdated or inaccurate. Second, she selected a diverse group of 60 migrants to follow over the course of 12 months to learn about their lives in depth: what drove them to migrate in the first place, why they had remained in the city, what their relationship was to their hometown and family members there, how they went about supporting themselves in the city, and how well they were doing. She also interviewed people that had important knowledge or experience that could give insight into the research questions: city administrators and historians, village elders, rural family members of migrants, church leaders, and cultural experts. Ms. Tilghman completed her field research in Madagascar in July 2012, and returned to the United States to analyze the data she had collected and write the PhD dissertation. To process the data to prepare them for analysis, she input quantitative data from survey responses into spreadsheets, and qualitative data into transcriptions of recorded interviews and observational notes. Data analysis and writing was still ongoing when this report was filed. However, initial analyses of the data have already generated interesting findings. For example, the types of rural linkage activities that migrants did most frequency were hosting rural visitors at one’s home, making material or financial contributions to rural events, and receiving gifts of food from the countryside. Given that the first two of these activites entail substantial costs in money, time, and energy on the part of migrants, it seems that migrants’ rural linkages are not solely driven by migrant self-interest and financial need. Additionally, the religious affiliation of migrants seems to have a strong influence in the way migrants perceive the importance of rural linkages. In particular, ancestral rituals are a key point of tension: Catholics who make up the majority of the population in this area of the country spoke of these as extremely important and obligatory, whereas traditional and pentecostal Protestants spoke of these as unimportant and something that should be abandoned. The major outcomes of the project include: - Training and Professional Opportunities: The project funded research towards the successful completion of a doctorate degree in anthropology for a graduate student. In addition, 16 Malagasy research assistants affiliated with the University of Tamatave received training in research methods and ethics. - Publications and Presentations: The dissertation will be composed of 3 articles which will be submitted to major academic journals in 2014. A report in French summarizing the main findings will also be submitted to interested parties in Madagascar. In the meantime, dissemination of research results include conference presentations at the 2013 meetings of the Society for Economic Anthropology, the African Studies Association, and the American Academy of Religion.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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University of Georgia
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