Gifts, trips and Facebook families: children and the semiotics of kinship in transnational Senegal

Abstract

Scholarship on transnational families has regularly examined remittances that adults abroad send to children in their country of origin. This article illuminates another permutation of these processes: family members in Senegal who establish relations with and through children in France through gifts and money. Focusing on relationships between children in Paris and their family members in Dakar, it provides an insight into the everyday exchanges through which transnational families attempt to assure the material reproduction of households in Africa. I trace the ways in which children use Facebook to maintain relationships with relatives in Senegal and examine how adults shape these relations. Focusing specifically on innovative forms of ‘cross-cousin’ relationships in the Senegalese diaspora, this article illustrates how adults create cultural scaffolding around children who may be unaware of the kinship terms for the relationships in which they are implicated. I demonstrate how practices that have permitted Africans to weather economic volatility for centuries are now carried out, in part, through social media. Approaching material circulation and the transmission of cultural values as mutually imbricated processes, I demonstrate how Senegalese selectively reinforce links with certain family members, in an attempt to favourably position themselves in socio-economic networks of transnational kin.