Connecting with Home, Keeping in Touch: Physical and Virtual Mobility Across Stretched Families in sub-Saharan Africa
de Lannoy, Ariane
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There is a long history of migration among low-income families in sub-Saharan Africa, in which (usually young, often male) members leave home to seek their fortune in what are perceived to be more favourable locations. While the physical and virtual mobility practices of such stretched families are often complex and contingent, maintaining contact with distantly located close kin is frequently of crucial importance for the maintenance of emotional (and possibly material) well-being, both for those who have left home and for those who remain. This article explores the ways in which these connections are being reshaped by increasing access to mobile phones in three sub-Saharan countries – Ghana, Malawi and South Africa – drawing on interdisciplinary, mixed-methods research from twenty-four sites, ranging from poor urban neighbourhoods to remote rural hamlets. Stories collected from both ends of stretched families present a world in which the connectivities now offered by the mobile phone bring a different kind of closeness and knowing, as instant sociality introduces a potential substitute for letters, cassettes and face-to-face visits, while the rapid resource mobilization opportunities identified by those still at home impose increasing pressures on migrant kin.