Susann Ludwig

Working on Futures - Life-courses of university graduates in Bamako, Mali

This PhD-project investigates three main construction sites of university graduates in Mali that can be interpreted as their contexts of action: namely, education, networks and religion. Furthermore, it is argued that the preparation for “la chance” to come is crucial in dealing with uncertainty. The research is based on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in three periods in Bamako. The study’s longitudinal character will enable an understanding not only of the informants’ social context, but also university graduates’ construction of their futures in the present. The data will be substantiated by expert interviews and participant observation.

In 2009, about 77 000 students were inscribed at the university of Bamako in Mali. Since the literacy rate is below 30 percent in the whole country, university graduates belong to the small educational elite. Until the 1980’s, university degrees secured access to public sector employment. Today, most young academics encounter difficulties finding a job that corresponds to their qualification and entering the labor market in general, which often leads to challenges in future planning.

How do university graduates imagine their future? How do university graduates work on the construction of their future? And how is this connected with the idea of “la chance”?

University graduates met in Bamako are trying to work on the realization of his or her image of the future – some of them successfully, some of them not. So, what is it, to them, that makes the difference? It is the idea of “la chance” and their conviction that it is possible to open it up. C’est Dieu qui donne la chance, mais toi aussi, tu peux t’ouvrir la chance“, an informant explained. University graduates in Mali create “la chance” (opportunities); they take “la chance” (chances), but they also simply have “la chance” (luck) or happen to have “la chance” (serendipity). Their future visions will work out, if “la chance” is with them. It can be accessed and even enforced by individual action, but it is also ambiguous and cannot be influenced, since it is believed to be God’s. It is a product of personal effort and a blessing at the same time.

Download the poster: Working on Futures - Networking Strategies of University Graduates in Bamako/Mali (2013)

Supervisor: Elisio Macamo

Co-Supervisor: Prof. Richard Rottenburg (University of Halle-Wittenberg)


Research Group: Construire son avenir: Selbstverständnis und Laufbahnprak-tiken von Jungdiplomierten in Mali und Burkina Faso



Susann Ludwig is a PhD-student in African Studies and research assistant at the Centre for African Studies in Basel. Her current research is focused on academic youth in Mali. She is interested in how they imagine and construct their futures while living and managing the present. She studied Social Anthropology (M.A.) at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. Her MA-thesis concentrated on the connection between neoliberal policy and work among academic youth in Bamako, Mali. The argument emphasizes the phenomenon of débrouillage as a smart and creative entrepreneurial strategy deployed by urban academic youth.