This article presents the life histories of two young Togolese migrants who moved from rural to urban contexts when they were seventeen and fourteen years old respectively, and worked as unpaid domestic servants (‘boys’) for rich Togolese families throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Although Pierre’s and Yves’ biographical trajectories ended in very different ways and their views of their past experience of migration diverge on some points, their life histories are emblematic of the strategies that young migrants elaborate in order to be socially recognized as adult and independent men. The detailed analysis of their life trajectories will show, on the one hand, how relations of personal dependence are tactically activated by young migrants in order to face economic crises and to find a certain degree of autonomy and, on the other hand, how these same relations can become a trap that reproduces forms of exploitation which can prevent (or indefinitely postpone) young males achieving the socially and culturally constructed status of ‘adult men’
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