CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1This collective work brings together papers from a conference entitled “Intimate Migrations: Marriage, Sex Work and Kinship in Transitional Migration”, held at Roskilde University, Denmark, in 2013. All eleven chapters, based on multisite surveys conducted by anthropologists in either sub-Saharan Africa or Europe, analyze how distance redefines affective relationships. One of the major strengths of the work is its “bottom-up” transnational approach to interactions between migrants’ daily lives, the context of global inequalities, and circulating cultural models. At the center of the study are iterative two-way migration trajectories through which the migrants in question seek to attain the success standards of the countries they come from (and in which they were socialized). Above and beyond economic concerns, many sub-Saharan migrants leave for Europe in order to attain the status of an adult “modern person” (p. 25). There are two closely intertwined aspects to these representations of becoming “somebody”: realizing one’s personal ambitions and honoring one’s social obligations. While the chapters share a conceptual framework, they address four distinct questions (thereby allowing for selective reading): parent-child relationships, bi-national couple dynamics, religious and ancestral beliefs, and youth and marginal cultures.

2The book takes off from the idea put forward in the introduction that is that sub-Saharan Africans have a long history of adapting their kinship practices, a history dominated by social and economic mobility, that is, seasonal, local, rural-urban, intra-African, employment-related, trade-related and/or marriage-related migrations. Whereas much migration literature shows that migration works to rearrange gender relations, marriage practices and parent-child dynamics, the authors here argue that sub-Saharan migrants instead adjust preexisting practices, such as child circulation, multi-parenthood and polygamy, to their new situations. From this perspective, which posits a bi-national dialectic, the book examines the “social regeneration” of family groups based on “affective circuits”, termed thus in order to “capture the way the transactions that constitute them often combine material and emotive elements simultaneously such that love, obligation, and jealousy become entangled with the circulation of money, consumer goods, ideas, and information” (p. 8). These circuits involve connections and disconnections brought about in turn by different types of blockage: migration laws, unemployment, conflicts, etc. The perspective in terms of relationships is explicitly opposed to analyses centered on the individual as a rational economic actor.

3The first three chapters study the different parent-child situations that may exist in situations of migration. Cati Coe analyses the famous case of the soccer player Mario Balotelli in Italy, born Mario Barwuah in a family of Ghanaian migrants. Mario was raised by a wealthy Italian family from the age of 3, an arrangement “brokered” by the Italian social services for one year and later renewed, against the will of the parents and in “the interest of the child”. The author shows how sub-Saharan migrant parents faced with difficulties raising their children use the practice of fosterage in three ways: placing a child with family members who have also migrated; sending a child “back” to Africa, or agreeing to let local social services transfer a child to a different family. These arrangements, understood by sub-Saharan families as ordinary and temporary, can put them at risk in the case of dissonant social norms; namely when social and judiciary institutions in European countries interpret the placement of a migrant child as abandonment of that child. In Chapter 2, Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg discusses how Cameroonian mothers in Germany maintain and create ties by way of their German-raised children. Last, Pamela Kai explores the performative dimension of photos that circulate between migrant parents in the United Kingdom and their children sent to Gambia: they may be seen as a staging of parental responsibility. Children in Africa integrate a type of social organization that morally validates their parents’ position as material and financial providers against a backdrop of wider-reaching, continuous affective circuits.

4Chapters 4 and 5 analyze the circulation of representations and beliefs. Carolyn Sargent and Stéphanie Larchanché study migrants from Mali to France assisted by their families back in the home country when they have health problems. In sub-Saharan Africa, individual suffering is seen as the result of relational tensions (conflicts, jealousy) and requires collective resolution; families turn to traditional doctors in both countries; treatments circulate, and family members in France may be encouraged to return temporarily to Africa to be cured. When social regeneration is at risk, the family swings into action, while the migrants themselves navigate between different treatment models (the hospital, a marabout). In Chapter 5, Leslie Fesenmyer studies how Kenyans in London who have converted to Pentacostalism there renegotiate their transnational obligations in the name of the Christian idea of distinguishing between the material and immaterial dimensions of love.

5Chapters 6, 7 and 8 discuss the question of transnational marriage, regularly the target of political debate on fraudulent immigration in Europe. Hélène Niveu Kringelbach examines the “transnational polygamy” of Senegalese men in France and the United Kingdom; that is, men who have both a Senegalese and a French wife in order to meet Senegalese imperatives (getting married and migrating to fulfill their function of financial maintenance) and to attain the status of documented migrant in France. The author exposes European states’ unintentional promotion of this marital arrangement: they prohibit polygamy while offering marriage as the only means of obtaining legal residence. In his chapter, Christian Groes formulates the concept of “affective exchange triads” (made up of couple members and wife’s maternal kin) to analyze material and emotional ties in couples composed of a Mozambican wife and a Danish or Portuguese husband. He suggests the relevance of moving beyond “methodological conjugalism”, showing that wives in these couples seldom wish to become housewives as that would mean failing on two counts: to benefit from their right to work and so to help their mothers and sisters, and to act to satisfy their aspiration for greater individual freedom. In this situation, then, and contrary to anticipations, they readily divorce, even if that means losing their resident status. Jennifer Cole, also focusing on a triad, shows the slightly different reactions of Madagascan women married to French men. On the one hand, they want to marry for love, as this would be proof that they have joined the modern middle class; on the other, they want to improve their social status in Madagascar by investing in their mother’s home and making sacrifices to ensure the blessings of their ancestors.

6The focus of the last three chapters is on marginal practices and “parakinship” communities. In Chapter 10 Julie Kleinman explores the trajectories of young Malians hanging out in the Paris Gare du Nord railway station. This space, with its multitude of potential opportunities (starting a relationship with a French woman, finding a bit of work, starting a business), is where they try to reactivate a flagging migration “adventure”. Chapters 9 and 11 present the “alternative circuits” of two other counter-cultures: Henrik Vigh looks at young men from Guinea-Bissau involved in transporting cocaine to Spain and Sasha Newell at Congolese “sapeurs” in Paris.

7A considerable strength of this book is the specific theoretical framework used to study geographically dispersed kinship groups. It is surely to be commended for this stimulating labor of conceptualization, a feature often absent from recent literature on transnational families. It would have been helpful, however, to add a conclusion that discusses the main factors and social and cultural distinctions involved in managing long-distance relationships. In this connection, the introduction does mention migration duration and gender differences. And it is of course difficult to compare cases when the fields studied are so different.

8In direct contrast to a European-centered perspective, where migration is perceived as in each case a single decision forced on people by poverty, or as a crisis, or as suffering and exclusion (refugee camps, journeys in frail vessels), this book (see the overturned world map, p. 3) accounts for the diversity of migrants’ strategies of transnational adjustment. Despite an ever more restrictive European migration context, migrants continue to pursue their lives and their “adventures”. Let us hope that transnational migration studies will succeed in tracking all these developments and continue to restore the complexity of migrants’ trajectories, reasons and goals. In this field more than others, follow-up surveys and a multisite approach are needed.

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