Construire son Avenir: Self-Conception and Career Practices of Young Graduates in Burkina Faso and Mali

In 2009 more than 35ꞌ000 students in Burkina Faso and 77ꞌ000 in Mali were enrolled at the local universities. Overall, young university graduates only make up a small fraction of the population in these countries. However, a university diploma holds promises of upward social mobility – the hope to become part of the national elites. The number of graduates continues to rise, but only a few will find adequate jobs. The economic crisis of the 1980s and the related Structural Adjustment Programs marked the beginning of a downward spiral of social mobility, which has continued ever since. Personal relations count for more than degrees. The number of young graduates is higher than the demand – although job possibilities in the field of development cooperation have increased.
The life-worldly experiences of university graduates and their practices are at the heart of this research project. Furthermore, practices and the self-conception of graduates are closely inter-connected: Self-conception is made up of familial, political and societal factors and guides future actions. The project “Construire son Avenir” pursues to answer the question of how the highly educated elites deal with uncertainties under existing conditions in Burkina Faso and Mali. Here aspects of gender are of special interest as men and women are exposed to uncertainties in very different ways, as is their capacity for action.
Focused on self-conception and career practices of young graduates, the project provides an important contribution to research in risks analysis. It also looks at how graduates deal with uncertainties related to their future. The objective of the project is to grasp contexts of action created by young graduates under these conditions of uncertainty. Additionally, we question how these contexts influence the processes of sociation in Burkina Faso and Mali. Such findings are of high socio-political relevance as they contradict a mainstream and highly mediatized perception of a young generation without a future usually associated with upheavals, violence and illegal migration.
First qualitative interviews will take place with young graduates at least six months after their master degree and again two and three years later (longitudinal study). The following key questions will be analyzed:
•    How do young graduates shape their career practices in light of the uncertain situation? And what role does their self-conception take thereby?
•    How do these trajectories the young graduates chose manifest themselves territorially and regionally?

Based on qualitative research in four cities of Burkina Faso and Mali (Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Bamako, Sikasso) about 250 interviews will be conducted. The innovative approach of this project consists in combining social and spatial aspects. The spatial dimension of the analyzed trajectories will show how the practices of young graduates influence regional development and urbanization processes. The research is inter-disciplinary (social anthropology, sociology, economic geography) and builds upon long-term research experiences in both countries.

Duration: January 2013 – January 2017

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (Project-Number: 100013-140428)