Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Fernando Riosmena

Second Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Third Advisor

Mara Goldman

Fourth Advisor

Joe Bryan

Fifth Advisor

Caroline Melly


International migrants have been conceptualized as development actors in their sending countries by virtue of the remittances they send to their families and home communities. Critical scholars have lambasted policies that promote migrant-led development, and the idea of migrant-led development, as supporting uneven, neoliberal development at the cost of migrants and sending communities. However, conceptualizing migrant-led development as a process that can occur across transnational space, as well as investigating how migrants themselves conceive of development, helps us gain new understandings of this process. This case study of Senegalese migrants in Harlem and Denver examines: 1) how migrants understand development as a concept and the particular development activities in which they engage 2) what shapes these understandings and activities 3) where they engage in those activities and 4) the role of the context of reception in shaping migrants’ outcomes. The methods for this 15-month study were qualitative, including semi-structured interviews and participant observation in both field sites. The results of the study indicate that Senegalese migrants have complex, diverse understandings of and engagements with development in both Senegal and the United States. These understandings and activities in some ways align with neoliberalism as described in the literature on migrant-led development, but the rejection of these practices as neoliberal overlooks how migrants’ lived experiences, their desire to negotiate for increased social power across transnational space, a pre-existing culture of entrepreneurship in Senegal, a value on assisting others, and distrust of others directly shapes how migrants understand and engage in development activities. Furthermore, the study indicates that the context of reception, especially at the local level, materially impacts migrants’ development activities through their integration experiences. These results highlight the theoretical importance of space and place in migrant-led development, contribute to ongoing debates about how to assess neoliberal development practices, and have implications for national immigration and local integration policies and approaches to development.