- The Scattered Family: Parenting, African Migrants, and Global Inequality by Cati Coe
The Scattered Family: Parenting, African Migrants and Global Inequality probes the nature of family ties linking Ghanaian labor migrants in the United States with their children and other kin in Africa. Anthropologist Cati Coe analyzes and contextualizes migrant narratives in relation to the most recent literature on transnationalism, capitalism and migration, family studies, and the anthropology of children. This work also has much to contribute to the growing body of scholarship on the anthropology of emotion or affect.
In this way, Coe’s work bridges what is sometimes conceptualized, albeit unhelpfully, as a dichotomy between economic globalization and cultural globalization. Economic processes of globalization contributed to political and economic instability in Ghana in the 1970s and the subsequent implementation of structural adjustment programs by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the 1980s. These programs, Coe argues, weakened the Ghanaian state’s “ability to provide needed services, enhanced the export-oriented segments of the economy, […] and resulted in a decline in living standards for middle-class professionals and civil servants” (11) precipitating emigration, first regionally, but then globally. It is, however, cultural processes of globalization that contribute to the ways Ghanaian families remain linked over time and space. In particular, it is the transmission of ideas, meanings, and values that both perpetuate and sustain the family as it adapts to strikingly different settings. Coe’s work, in this way, seems to align with scholars such as Gillian Hart who attempt to rethink “globalization in terms of multiple, divergent, but interconnected trajectories of socio-spatial change” (2002:13). Coe, then, provides more [End Page 965] empirical evidence that allows us to see globalization in a way that transcends the “impact” model.
Adding welcome case study material, Coe begins to address Ferguson’s (2006:25) observation that the enormous literature on globalization has little to say about Africa. She builds on existing understandings put forward by other anthropologists of globalization that the mobility of capital is not matched by the mobility of people (Lewellen 2002). She unpacks the limits on the mobility of people through careful analysis of US immigration law. She adds texture to discussions of African migrants that have focused primarily on either elites or Convention refugees. While Coe does not exclude elites from her sample, the bulk of her contribution seems to revolve around increased attention to the migration of members of the African middle class—tracing what their social positioning means for their reception in the US, their extraction from Ghanaian society, and, subsequently, their periodic reinsertion into Ghanaian society. While not necessarily a topic that Coe tackles, her work has significance for scholars interested in the concept of “return” migration, which revolves around a notion of departure and return, rather than the cycle of migration/remigration that Coe depicts.
At the heart of this study is a concept that Coe refers to as a migrant’s “repertoire,” or their “existing beliefs, practices, and resources of family life” (5) that they then adapt to the experience of migration. She suggests that, “the repertoire of migrants and their families affect how they separate and how they feel about their separation” (5). In particular, The Scattered Family examines how Ghanaian immigrants to the US and their families adapt their repertoires to the parent-child separation caused by a parent’s international migration. For Coe, repertoire is related to, but distinct from, Bourdieu’s habitus. She writes that, in particular,
repertoire signals a multiplicity of cultural resources and frameworks, a body or collection of practices, knowledge, and beliefs that allows people to imagine what is possible, expect certain things, and value certain goals rather than the primacy of frameworks laid down through experiences in the family of origin.(15-16)
Her use of the family as the unit of analysis is a welcome addition to the literature. She cites Weiner (1998:12) who notes that two-thirds of US legal immigration occurs through family reunification. In an interesting twist, [End Page 966] however, Coe...