Annotation: Jackson. 2008. The shock of the new

Jackson, M. (2008). The shock of the new: on migrant imaginaries and critical transitions. Ethnos, 73(1), 57-72.

This essay phenomenologically discusses the lifeworld of a young Sierra Leonean man, Sewa, who has noble roots in his home country, and who struggles with everyday life in London. The article, which takes the form of an ethnographic narrative, is based only on one day of meeting with Sewa during Jackson’s fieldwork between 2005-2006, yet their relationship began many years ago. Jackson and Sewa talk about migrant life during their “touristic” walk from the center of London, down to the “stronghold” of Sierra Leoneans – the Southeastern part of the city. For Sewa, life in London, although uncertain and although homesickness sometimes “seizes” and “takes hold” of him, is still “better” than the one in Sierra Leone because there is only backbreaking farming work back home. Jackson notes that just within a single generation, he had seen Kuranko youth “turn away from the ancestral order of things and from the dutiful perpetuation of custom,” to become migrants elsewhere. Sewa however has hopes of returning as he holds the birthright to replace his father who was Paramount Chief in their town. Sewa’s lifeworld in London connects to practices and beliefs back home. For example, he regrets that he cannot do anything when people stare at him with an “evil eye,” referring to the suspicious glances of his neighbours and the police when he passes by. Jackson finds it interesting that even though Sewa’s stay in the UK was legal, he seems to question his own validity. Sewa makes the most of this environment wherein he lives in imminent danger by deriving inner strength from his “very life” (ni le wola) – his parents/family. For Jackson, Sewa finds his destiny as not simply being in his own hands, but as “determined by (the) relationship with significant others and by the ways in which they reflect and care for you, even after they have passed away” (70). The lives of Sierra Leoneans in London, Jackson writes, is a “compromise” — a balance between gains and losses (71-72). The anxieties in daily life and work that Sewa and other Sierra Leoneans in the UK feel are analogous to the process of alienation that Marx writes about (71). There is a however a threshold or breaking point to this “tolerance:” one may end up being unresponsive to one’s voice and presence, eventually falling prey to their own cynicism (such as the case of their friend Mohammed who sought refuge in alcohol, and who lost trust in both his homeland and the UK as his homes). It is this compromise that characterizes their lives, rather than complete success or failure.

Here is a brief background info on Sierra Leoneans living in London: LINK.


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