SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Gunvor Jónsson

BA, BA Honours, Masters (cand.scient.anth)
  • Overview


Gunvor Jonsson
Ms Gunvor Jónsson
Email address:
Thesis title:
At the End of the Railway Line. Malian Female Traders in the Senegalese Capital.
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


I am currently writing up my thesis on Malian female traders, based on 12 months' fieldwork in Dakar, Senegal. Prior to the PhD I worked as a Researcher at the International Migration Institue (IMI), University of Oxford, where I am still afilliated as a Research Associate (see During my four years at IMI I mainly worked on projects on mobility and migration in Africa. I have coordinated and collaborated on research with partners at various African universities; organised conferences in Africa and the UK; and I have authored various publications on migration, both independently and in collaboration with my colleagues at IMI. I have a Master's degree from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), and undergraduate degrees from the University of Pretoria (South Africa). In 2006, I spent five months in a village in western Mali, conducting fieldwork for my Master's thesis entitled, "The Mirage of Migration: Migration Aspirations and Immobility in a Malian Soninke Village". I have also conducted two months' fieldwork in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa for a BA Honour's dissertation on young women's sexual biographies and agency.

PhD Research

My thesis is an anthropological study of both mobile and settled Malian women traders. It is based on twelve months of multi-sited qualitative fieldwork in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and examines a context of significant infrastructural transformations. The Malian women previously deployed the Dakar-Niger Railway and its terminus station in Dakar to facilitate their trade and market their goods. However, their market at the terminus station in Dakar was bulldozed in 2009 and in the same year, the passenger train that the mobile traders had deloyed stopped running.
To situate these events historically, my thesis first outlines the evolution of the Malian presence in Senegal and specifically in Dakar, querying the applicability of concepts such as diaspora and strangerhood. I then focus on the turmultuous transformations that affected the Malian traders in 2009, exploring the plethora of interpretations of the underlying causes, including neoliberalism, xenophobia, ignorance, and secrecy.
The thesis also examines the gendered dimensions of trade, migration and mobility. I examine informants' ambivalent and contradictory attitudes towards women's wealth accumulation; and I examine the meanings and behaviours associated with female (and feminine) mobilities, by analysing feminine bodily comportment, women's journeys, and female migration.
I then examine the mobile and settled traders’ livelihoods more closely. One chapter looks at how the settled Malian market traders, who were living permanently in Dakar, adapted to the splintering and reconfiguration of the former Malian market. By examining the traders’ reactions to market relocation and the phenomenon of clustering of competing traders, the chapter provides a detailed analysis of the significance of place, social networks, and moral economies in market trade. A final chapter examines the livelihoods of the mobile female traders I encountered in Dakar, who were constantly travelling back and forth from Mali. I examine the interconnections of mobile and settled trade; and the convergences between the settled Malian diaspora in Dakar and these mobile women who were based in Mali. I closely examine the links between mobility and trade, analysing the need for physical co-presence and the (limited) role of communications technology in this mobile trade.

My blog on migration and anthropology in Africa:

PhD Publications

  • Jónsson, Gunvor. 2014. “Non-migrant, Sedentary, Immobile, or “Left Behind”? Reflections on the Absence of Migration”. In: Abdalla, E. B. M., Barros, D. D. & Berthet, M. (eds.) Spaces in Movement. New Perspectives on Migration in African Settings. Cologne:Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Jónsson, Gunvor & Oliver Bakewell. 2013. “Theory and the Study of Migration in Africa”. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 34:5, 477-485 (Introduction to special Issue, edited by Gunvor Jónsson & Oliver Bakewell).
  • Jónsson, Gunvor. 2012. “Imagination and Connectedness: Consumption of Global Forms in a Malian Village”. Mande Studies: The Journal of the Mande Studies Association, vol. 12.
  • Jónsson, Gunvor. 2012. “Migration, identity and immobility in a Malian Soninke Village”. In Knut Graw & Samuli Schielke (eds). The Global Horizon: Migratory Expectations in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium: Leuven University Press.
  • Jónsson, Gunvor & Robin Cohen (eds). 2011. Migration and Culture. UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Jónsson, Gunvor and Oliver Bakewell (2011). “Migration, Mobility and the African City”. IMI Working Paper no. 50, University of Oxford: International Migration Institute. Online:
  • Jónsson, Gunvor (2010). “The environmental factor in migration dynamics – a review of African case studies”. IMI Working Paper no. 21, University of Oxford: International Migration Institute. Online:
  • Niehaus, I. with Gunvor Jónsson (2005). “Dr. Wouter Basson, Americans and Wild Beasts: Men’s Conspiracy Theories of HIV/AIDS in the South African Lowveld”. Medical Anthropology, 24(2).

PhD Conferences

  • “Tar baby: Migration and Culture”, presented at retrospective conference for Prof. Robin Cohen held at the Oxford Martin Institute, University of Oxford (UK), October 2014
  • “At the End of the Railway Line: Malian Women Traders in Dakar”, presented  at the Conference of the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK), Sussex (UK), September 2014
  • “Mobile Malian women traders and the need for mobility”, presented  at the Conference of the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK), Sussex (UK), September 2014
  • “Mobility and Femininity: Malian female traders in Dakar”, presented at the Anthropology in London conference at UCL, London (UK), June 2014
  • “At the End of the Railway Line... Malian Female Traders in Dakar”, presented at Terrains revisités en migrations africaines, workshop convened by IRD, CODESRIA and IPAR, Dakar (Senegal), October 2013