‘If you look at the sky you step in sh*t’

Horizons of possibility and migration from Serbia

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
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  • 1 University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign, Graduate College dnj@illinois.edu
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Following nearly two decades of wartime ‘entrapment’, in 2009 the conditions of possibility for mobility fundamentally changed for Serbian citizens. Of both symbolic and material consequence, Serbia’s return to respectable geopolitical standing also marked a shift toward more nuanced stance‐taking in relation to mobility – at least for members of an urban, educated generation who have taken advantage of renewed opportunities to travel. In this article, I explore the real and symbolic geographies invoked by young potential migrants in talk of leaving and staying in Serbia. I read mobility narratives as proxies for commentary on a host of other political and socio‐economic issues, drawing attention to the role of international travel in the construction of imaginary yet authoritative ‘contrapuntal’ lives lived elsewhere. I show how such imaginaries both colour how potential and return migrants narrate their everyday navigations in the ‘here and now’ and give moral weight to migratory aspirations for, and experiences of, lives lived in the ‘then and there’. In unpacking the emic terms ‘negative selection’ and , I argue that the foundational motif of these varied imaginaries is a deep investment in the ideology of meritocracy, a morally inflected register for the articulation of aspiration as well as critique.

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