Affective Circuits: African Migrations to Europe and the Pursuit of Social Regeneration

Affective Circuits: African Migrations to Europe and the Pursuit of Social Regeneration

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Affective Circuits: African Migrations to Europe and the Pursuit of Social Regeneration by Jennifer Cole

The influx of African migrants into Europe in recent years has raised important issues about changing labor economies, new technologies of border control, and the effects of armed conflict. But attention to such broad questions often obscures a fundamental fact of migration: its effects on ordinary life. Affective Circuits brings together essays by an international group of well-known anthropologists to place the migrant family front and center. Moving between Africa and Europe, the book explores the many ways migrants sustain and rework family ties and intimate relationships at home and abroad. It demonstrates how their quotidian efforts—on such a mass scale—contribute to a broader process of social regeneration.
The contributors point to the intersecting streams of goods, people, ideas, and money as they circulate between African migrants and their kin who remain back home. They also show the complex ways that emotions become entangled in these exchanges. Examining how these circuits operate in domains of social life ranging from child fosterage to binational marriages, from coming-of-age to healing and religious rituals, the book also registers the tremendous impact of state officials, laws, and policies on migrant experience. Together these essays paint an especially vivid portrait of new forms of kinship at a time of both intense mobility and ever-tightening borders.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226405292
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/25/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Jennifer Cole is an anthropologist and professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Forget Colonialism and Sex and Salvation and coeditor of Love in Africa, the latter two published by the University of Chicago Press. Christian Groes is an anthropologist and associate professor in the Department of Culture and Identity at Roskilde University in Denmark.  He is the author of Transgressive Sexualities and co-editor of Studying Intimate Matters.

Read an Excerpt

Affective Circuits

African Migrations to Europe and the Pursuit of Social Regeneration

By Jennifer Cole, Christian Groes

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-40529-2


Translations in Kinscripts: Child Circulation among Ghanaians Abroad

Cati Coe

The well-known case of soccer star Mario Balotelli provides insights into how affective circuits can be broken and remade as Ghanaians translate and adapt practices of child circulation taken from their home country to the cultural kinscripts underpinning social institutions and legal structures in Western countries. Born in 1990 to Ghanaian immigrants in Italy, Mario Balotelli was raised by a white Italian family from the age of three. Since his adolescence, he has claimed Italian citizenship, disowned his Ghanaian family, and refused to play for Ghana in international tournaments, causing much consternation among that nation's soccer fans (Williamson and Pisa 2010). His circulation into the Balotellis' household gave him a sense of belonging to the family and through them a public identification with Italy.

Balotelli's case is an unusual one because of his talent, visibility, and wealth, but it illustrates several points I make in this chapter about the experiences and dilemmas of more ordinary Ghanaian transnational migrants and their children. Ghanaians use practices of child circulation familiar to them from their own childhoods and adulthoods to support their migrations. These practices have been central to how generations of women who migrate within Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa balance work and reproduction and provide care across generations, a process Cole (this volume) terms family regeneration. Children's circulation into new households, where nonparental adults care for them, creates new affective circuits — that is, flows of love, words, moral support, advice, goods, money, and services produced in social networks (Cole and Groes introduction and Feldman-Savelsberg chapter, this volume). It also produces new ties of belonging and attachment, including attachment to national identities.

In Ghana, as elsewhere in West Africa (see, e.g., Alber 2003; Notermans 2004), children's circulation into new households is not meant to break their connections with their biological parents. Rather, the aim is to create a more complex and broader array of social connections along which material opportunities and emotional feelings will flow. Parents seek to add new (rather than replace old) identities and give children new, more desirable social class positions and urban/rural connections. In fact, child circulation not only connects children to new caregivers but also creates deeper connections between the biological parents and the fostering caregiver (Bledsoe 1990; Etienne 1979). Similar to the electrical currents created as electrons jump from atom to atom, new affective circuits between parents, caregivers, and children can be enabled and rerouted by placing children in the custody of new caregivers.

When Ghanaian migrants go abroad, they often seek to place their children in other households. Children tend to circulate to three kinds of households: those of nonkin citizen families in the country of migration; those of kin in Ghana; and those of migrant kin abroad. Parents and children alike work to maintain affective circuits despite physical distance, in part by maintaining flows of communication and material goods. However, as Balotelli's personal history dramatically illustrates, Ghanaian practices of child circulation translate imperfectly and unevenly into the scripts of family life that Ghanaians encounter in Europe and other Western countries. As Groes (this volume) recounts, a similar dynamic characterizes marriage, as Mozambican migrant women reject becoming "locked-up" housewives in Europe in favor of continuing "sponsorships" similar to those they initiated at home. Cultural narratives about kin relations, or kinscripts, shape the institutional and legal practices that "delineate and regulate kinship relations," including the family reunification routes by which Africans are allowed to immigrate into Europe (Boehm 2012, 60). Consequently, they also structure how social services provide help and how child circulation is legally regulated through fostering and adoption. I borrow the term kinscript from Carol Stack and Linda Burton (1994), but I use it more narrowly than they do to illuminate culturally patterned family narratives that shape conflict and care within families and policy related to family life.

This chapter examines how cultural narratives about parenting, kinship, and care shape the maintenance and expansion — and contraction and breakage — of the affective circuits that Ghanaians create through transnational migration and child circulation. As the electrical circuit metaphor suggests, these flows can be blocked, slowed, dropped, and picked up again. Cultural kinscripts are key to interpreting the meaning of these flows as well as to deciding whether they should remain open or be shut down. The cultural frameworks that undergird the regulation of family life in Western countries resignify West African practices of child circulation, potentially generating new familial and national attachments. The fact that European law recognizes Western definitions of family and not African ones is a major factor in the short-circuiting of affective and material flows between African migrants and the children in their extended families. European laws' obliviousness to African kinscripts raises questions about legal pluralism, an issue I return to in the chapter's conclusion.

Ideologies Underpinning Ghanaian Child Circulation: Multiple Parenthood

In southern Ghana, children come to belong to multiple mothers and fathers (both biological and social) through practices of care. Care takes the form of material support such as paying for food, clothing, medical attention, and school fees for the child. It also extends to emotional bonds, because love creates the desire to care for another in material ways (Coe 2011). Parenting can be distributed across many people without the child belonging to any one of them (Goody 1982). A Presbyterian minister from Ghana explained to me,

Many people help each individual to grow up. ... So if someone wants us to help them, we look at our financial situation, and if we can help, then we help them to a certain place, and then someone else continues to help them. When that person grows up, he will also help someone. That's how we do things. Little by little, [we help one another]. ... Like in this house, with the little children here, when he [his wife's nephew] finishes studying, he changes into a teacher, and they sit together and he teaches them. Or if he has a problem understanding his studies, he brings it to us and we teach him.

In part because the exchange of resources defines care (Thelen, Coe, and Alber 2013), multiple people can provide care during a person's life course, including older siblings and cousins. Furthermore, the child is expected to reciprocate this care, whether immediately — by cheerfully helping with household chores — or in the future, by contributing financially to the caregiver's well-being.

This cultural kinscript has been termed fosterage in the literature on Africa because of its distinction from the Western ideal — the coresidence of a biologically constituted nuclear family. However, fosterage is not always highlighted in contexts where the care of children is broadly distributed. In the town of Akropong, where I have done my fieldwork, there is no local term for raising a child one has not given birth to, speaking to its usualness, lack of exceptionality, and normality. After all, the child belongs primarily to the lineage and kinship group, not to the parents. Because care is distributed broadly, the ties to the biological parents are not severed, as they are in Western adoption. The parents' own parents or siblings are the most likely relatives to whom care will be distributed, and the child's relationship with the parents is likely to continue.

Through their practices of child circulation, Ghanaians deliberately seek to manage the affective circuits that connect parents and children. Children who are being fostered visit their parents on weekends or over school vacations, and their parents also visit them. Even children who are fostered from a very young age, as in grandmother fosterage, and who may not know that the person they call mother is in fact a grandmother or an aunt, eventually learn the truth: when they reach the age of ten or so, people in the neighborhood or other relatives will begin telling them that the person raising them is not their mother. Some people feel that this information will change how the child feels, that it will make the child worry about why he or she was given up; others feel that when care is satisfactory, the child will not be troubled to suddenly learn the identity of his or her biological mother. Parents and children use the cultural scripts available to them to manage their affective belonging when children circulate between households. Doing so is particularly important for those raised in a social parent's household from a young age, so that they can maintain relationships with multiple caregivers, including their biological parents.

Ghanaian Migrations: Past and Present

Transnational migration has been a valued route to advancement in Ghana since the colonial era, when Ghanaians traveled for work elsewhere in West Africa and for education in Britain, practices that continued after independence. Migration from Ghana to Britain was once a sign of elite status, particularly when the purpose was a prestigious education. The dream of being educated abroad to become an important person in Ghana continues to animate many Ghanaians. Most international migrants have gone to other West African countries or elsewhere in Africa (Benneh 2004; International Organization for Migration 2009), but the United Kingdom and the United States each receive 5 to 7 percent of Ghana's emigrants, with migrants usually using initial travel to another African country to fund migration to a more developed country (International Organization for Migration 2009).

However, as international migration increased in the 1980s and 1990s, the opportunity to travel became democratized (Manuh 2006, 24). A broader swathe of the population, including students, teachers, lower-level civil servants, and skilled blue-collar workers such as mechanics and electricians, has become increasingly involved in transnational migration. Still, international migrants from Ghana tend to be from the more developed southern part of the country and to live in urban areas before their migration (Adeku 1995; Anarfi et al. 2003). What was once educational migration — even if only ostensibly (Goody and Groothues 1982) — is now clearly a labor migration.

As international migration has expanded beyond the educated elite, it has become increasingly characterized by struggle. The fruits of migration have shrunk for migrants both because the cost of living has increased in Ghana and because of the kinds of less-skilled jobs they do abroad. Moreover, because Ghanaians are relatively recent migrants to Europe, except to the United Kingdom, they usually do not have an extensive family network in place there to help with childcare and housing. In response, they have developed fictive kinship networks, particularly through churches (van Dijk 2002a) and hometown associations. Many work long hours in difficult and low-paying jobs, making their ability to contribute to and benefit from these organizations precarious. They often hope to return to Ghana once they have earned enough money to build a house or start a business there or pay for their children's education, but they find that their time away can stretch to decades, as some decide to remain abroad until retirement.

Historically, migration stimulated two different kinds of child circulation, both of which became more prevalent during the extensive urban migration in the 1960s and 1970s. One was known as grandmother fosterage, in which young women who traveled to urban areas for further education or work left their young children with their mothers. Migrant women who used grandmother fostering in my survey were more likely to be young, unmarried, or remarried. For example, Belinda, fifty-three when interviewed, described how as a child in the 1960s she lived with her grandmother in Akropong because her mother was working in a nearby market town and had remarried. Her brother, meanwhile, went to live with their father. Grandmother fostering was also a common option for women who were transferred every few years because of their or their husbands' civil service employment and who wanted their children to have a more stable living situation. Elizabeth, a forty-seven-year-old nurse (born ca. 1961), described how her mother, then a young, unmarried woman, gave her to her grandmother shortly after her birth. She stayed with her grandmother because her mother, who worked for the social welfare department in Kumasi, was often sent to different stations across the country. Elizabeth never knew her father, and, in fact, her grandmother treated her as if she were her own youngest child. Such arrangements ideally provided care across the generations — to the mother, who could work and rest assured that her child was not being neglected; to the child, who was lovingly cared for; and to the grandmother, who was assured of her daughter's remittances and for whom the child performed household labor as she grew older. Relations between grandchild and grandmother strengthened the affective circuits between the migrant and her family at home because they ensured frequent visits and communication. Grandmother fosterage is one theme on which transnational migrants improvise, providing the model for Mario Balotelli's parents to foster their two-year-old out and for Ghanaian migrants to send their infants and young children to live with relatives back in Ghana.

Another kind of child circulation made more prevalent by the migration of adults was the movement of older children into urban areas, particularly into higher-status and more educated households, for the purposes of their education, exposure to urban life, and discipline, in exchange for which they contributed their labor to those households. As I witnessed during my fieldwork, the strategy of bringing relatives into a household was more common when the household included educated married women who were formally employed or when women were married to formally employed men, but it was also an important option for women traders, who appreciated having assistants to hawk goods around town (see also Schildkrout 1973). This kind of child circulation has been extended to justify adolescents' domestic servitude among nonkin or more extended kin, but it usually takes place between relatives, with more wealthy, educated, and stable siblings of the biological parent or of the child providing care to the child in exchange for the child's domestic labor, perhaps including care of younger children in the household. For example, Matilda, a forty-eight-year-old woman (born ca. 1960), went to live with her older sister, a nurse, for twelve years, finishing middle and secondary school while staying with her. Describing her sister's reliance on her in the household, she said that she helped prepare the meals for her sister's husband, something husbands usually insist that only their wives do. Young and teenage girls often helped their older and adult sisters or the sisters of their parents juggle their work and their household responsibilities and their older, more educated sisters helped them go to school.

In this scenario, the hierarchy of social class dovetails with a geographic hierarchy. In other words, parents see children as moving not only from a poorer household to a richer one but also from the village to the city, from a place that is less well regarded in terms of "civilization" (anibuei, to use the local parlance) to one that is better. "Civilization" is denoted by material conditions such as running water, electricity, cars and roads, better educational facilities, and habits related to cleanliness and disciplined behavior. Thus, children from village farming families are considered to have moved up in the world socially and economically simply by going to live in a town or city. It is this second kind of movement that transnational migrants are imagining when they attempt to bring their adolescent nephews and nieces or younger siblings to live with them abroad.

Parents often seek to extend established practices of child circulation, long pivotal to women's mobility in Ghana, to transnational migration, as the following example shows. A woman had begun taking care of her sister's child, Philip, when he was one and a half years old and his mother was working as an apprentice seamstress in Accra. When Philip was six years old, his mother traveled to the United Kingdom with her new husband, and Philip remained behind with his aunt. When Philip turned fifteen, his aunt wanted him to join his mother in the United Kingdom despite her own emotional connection to him, because "then she [the mother] can help him, because I have done my bit. And she also wants to help him with what is left [of his growing up], little by little." However, migrants soon find that building affective circuits and extending kinship links in Europe is far more difficult than they expect.


Excerpted from Affective Circuits by Jennifer Cole, Christian Groes. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Affective Circuits and Social Regeneration in African Migration: 1. Translations in Kinscripts: Child Circulation among Ghanaians Abroad: 2. Forging Belonging through Children in the Berlin-Cameroonian Diaspora: 3. Photography and Technologies of Care: Migrants in Britain and Their Children in the Gambia: 4. Transnational Health-Care Circuits: Managing Therapy among Immigrants in France and Kinship Networks in West Africa: 5. “Assistance but Not Support”: Pentecostalism and the Reconfiguring of Relatedness between Kenya and the United Kingdom: 6. The Paradox of Parallel Lives: Immigration Policy and Transnational Polygyny between Senegal and France: 7. Men Come and Go, Mothers Stay: Personhood and Resisting Marriage among Mozambican Women Migrating to Europe: 8. Giving Life: Regulating Affective Circuits among Malagasy Marriage Migrants in France: 9. Life’s Trampoline: On Nullification and Cocaine Migration in Bissau: 10. From Little Brother to Big Somebody: Coming of Age at the Gare du Nord: 11. Circuitously Parisian: Sapeur Parakinship and the Affective Circuitry of Congolese Style

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