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Connecting with home, keeping in touch: Physical and virtual mobility across stretched families in sub-Saharan Africa

Porter, Gina; Hampshire, Kate; Abane, Albert; Munthali, Alister; Robson, Elsbeth; Tanle, Augustine; Owusu, Samuel; De Lannoy, Ariane; Bango, Andisiwe


Albert Abane

Andisiwe Bango

Ariane De Lannoy

Kate Hampshire

Alister Munthali

Samuel Asiedu Owusu

Gina Porter

Augustine Tanle


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 those who remain. This article explores the ways 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 24 sites, ranging from poor urban neighbourhoods to remote rural hamlets. Stories collected from both ends of stretched families present a world where 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.

Journal Article Type Review
Publication Date May 1, 2018
Journal Africa
Print ISSN 0001-9720
Electronic ISSN 1750-0184
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 88
Issue 2
Pages 404-424
Keywords Mobility, Migration, Mobile phones, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa
Publisher URL
Copyright Statement COPYRIGHT: © International African Institute 2018
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Additional Information This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article which has been accepted for future publication in: Africa.


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