The Moral Economy of Voice within IOM’s Awareness-Raising Industry: Gambian Returnees and Migrants as Messengers

Publication Date: 
17 May 2023
Publication Language: 
Appearing in: 
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

The ‘politics of voice’ of awareness-raising bends returnees’ stories towards moral tropes against illegalised migration. These stories are commodified, bringing awareness-raising within the migration industries. We address this commodification using data from an ethnographic study of the Migrants as Messengers (MaM) project run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in The Gambia since 2019 and through the concept that we call ‘moral economy of voice’. Its constituting dimensions are outlined in our analysis of vignettes on how the clashes between IOM and the returnees over awareness-raising industry’s capitalist logics are cast in moral terms. We show that the returnees orally complained at IOM’s mis-categorisation, mis-compensation and appropriation of their products. When acting as members of an independent group, however, they rejected IOM’s conditional support for their communication projects altogether. This all engenders an evasive paternalism whereby returnees’ survival partly depends on IOM, but the latter affords them neither full vulnerability nor maturity status. As such, returnee stories’ commodification mechanisms are as contentious as their discursive bending. We therefore hint at returnee groups’ potential for withstanding exploitative dynamics as well as advocate for a fairer engagement of returnees in awareness-raising.

Returnee; moral economy of voice; awareness-raising campaigns; The Gambia; IOM