Marriage without Borders: Transnational Spouses in Neoliberal Senegal

Marriage without Borders: Transnational Spouses in Neoliberal Senegal

Marriage without Borders: Transnational Spouses in Neoliberal Senegal

Marriage without Borders: Transnational Spouses in Neoliberal Senegal


In popular songs, televised media, news outlets, and online venues, a jabaaru immigré ("a migrant's wife") may be depicted as an opportunistic gold-digger, a forsaken lonely heart, or a naíve dupe. Her migrant husband also faces multiple representations as profligate womanizer, conquering hero, heartless enslaver, and exploited workhorse. These depictions point to fluctuating understandings of gender, status, and power in Senegalese society and reflect an acute uneasiness within this coastal West African nation that has seen an exodus in the past thirty-five years, as more men and women migrate out of Senegal in hope of a better financial future.

Marriage Without Borders is a multi-sited study of Senegalese migration and marriage that showcases contemporary changes in kinship practices across the globe engendered by the neoliberal demand for mobility and flexibility. Based on ten years of ethnographic research in both Europe and Senegal, the book examines a particular social outcome of economic globalization: transnational marriages between Senegalese migrant men living in Europe and women at home in Senegal. These marriages have grown exponentially among the Senegalese, as economic and social possibilities within the country have steadily declined. More and more, building successful social lives within Senegal seems to require reaching outside the country, through either migration or marriage to a migrant. New kinds of affective connection, and disconnection, arise as Senegalese men and women reshape existing conceptions of spousal responsibility, filial duty, Islamic piety, and familial care.

Dinah Hannaford connects these Senegalese transnational marriages to the broader pattern of flexible kinship arrangements emerging across the global south, arguing that neoliberal globalization and its imperative for mobility extend deep into the family and the heart and stretch relationships across borders.


[Issa] told her that he would soon depart for Europe, that
he absolutely wanted to marry her before he left, because
he didn’t want to lose her. the dowry, the gifts, the jewelry
and the big ceremony, he would take care of that right
away on his first vacation back home. the young lady
trembled…. She caught her breath, clung to his arm and
bit her lip to control her smile. Issa savored his effect. He
hadn’t prepared his speech well, but the word Europe was
his best talisman. His fiancée, captivated, accepted with
all her heart…. She could already see herself, radiant
princess on her eve of coronation, adorned in her beautiful
finery, welcoming her love home from Europe and rich
with millions. Like her, her parents would accept and
facilitate all the steps. They wouldn’t want to deny their
dear daughter this marvelous future that was taking shape
on the horizon.

—Fatou Diome, Celles qui attendent

In Fatou Diome’s novel, Those Who Wait, young Issa doesn’t need to offer his intended a detailed plan of how he will be successful in Europe. the young woman demands no explanation of how her fiancé will become a legal resident once his fishing boat arrives on the shores of the Canary Islands of Spain. Neither does she ask what kind of work he plans to pursue as a Senegalese high school dropout whose only work experience is in traditional fishing, who speaks not a word of Spanish, and who has no savings to draw on for his initial arrangements upon arrival. Instead, she begins mentally spending the fortunes she is certain he will earn once he makes it to that magical place called Europe.

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