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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Cluster research project "Making a Living: Learning trajectories towards the ability to earn a livelihood"


As part of the Research Section “Learning” one projects scrutinizes the ways of becoming an adult and making a living for rural members of the younger generation in West Africa who were part of the global schooling campaigns in the early 2000s.

In 2019, the Cluster’s six research sections launched a total number of 21 research projects scrutinizing a considerably wide range of topics and areas. This year, 13 new projects were added to the project agenda of the Cluster. The research section “Learning” alone is currently running a total number of five research projects examining areas like illiteracy, learning databases and media technologies. The project “Making a Living: Learning trajectories towards the ability to earn a livelihood” by principal investigators Prof. Dr. Erdmute Alber and Prof. Dr. Iris Clemens as well as Sabrina Maurus and Issa Tamou studies the ways and possibilities of making a livelihood for a generation of young adults in Benin that was exposed to global schooling campaigns run by the United Nations from 2000 to 2015. These campaigns have immensely shaped the educational landscape in West Africa as it can be found today.

Results of the schooling campaigns
As a result of these large globally-influenced schooling campaigns which aimed to contribute to the global enrolment of all boys and especially girls, a whole generation of young adults is now growing up who have almost all at least briefly attended school. Many of them were educational pioneers in their families. Thus, a whole generation of youths who were deeply influenced by these campaigns and the related immense hopes and expectations is now becoming adult. However, only a small minority have finished secondary school.

Within this unique historical moment, the project asks about the roles multiple learning processes – within and outside of school – play in becoming an adult, making a living and earning a livelihood in Benin. Understanding making a living as a relational and multifaceted process entangled with socio-economic conditions, as well as social embeddedness and hopes of upward mobility, the project scrutinizes how the general and abstract promises and hopes of the schooling campaigns are related to actual biographical processes, while population growth, scarcity of land, the rising importance of formal exams and specific problems of the formal labour markets seem to be obstacles in finding one’s place in adult life.

Between hope, waithood and hopelessness
Prof. Dr. Iris Clemens explains: “With regard to this specific historical moment, at which scientific perspectives on youth in Africa oscillate between hope, waithood and hopelessness, we take a pragmatic and relational perspective in reconstructing concrete ways of becoming an adult and making a living for rural members of that generation. Our goal is to contribute to connected debates on youth, adulthood and making a living through a relational methodological approach that is oriented towards following the actor over time. We want to contribute to debates on life courses, youth and education by relating them to the general themes of the Cluster: multiplicity, relationality, and, on a theoretical level, reflexivity as well as to develop new ways of researching biographies, which are often carried out retrospectively.”

Finally, the project seeks to develop new forms of interdisciplinary collaboration between educational sciences and social anthropology by analysing a jointly-generated, common set of data, which we also intend to share with partners in the research region. This collaboration is not limited to shared data generation, but also extends to shared data management between the disciplines. On an epistemological level, the research team aims to contribute to theoretical approaches of relationality in the humanities. Prof. Erdmute Alber adds: “Having worked in the region for long time with anthropological methods and perspectives, to combine this with perspectives from global educational sciences as well as with Prof. Clemens’ expertise in network theory is a wonderful experience for me. Additionally, our collaboration with the LASDEL, Parakou and the shared supervision of our PHD candidate in Parakou opens up new paths of collaboration in the sub-region.” (sg)

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