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The Scattered Family

Parenting, African Migrants, and Global Inequality

The Scattered Family

Parenting, African Migrants, and Global Inequality

Today’s unprecedented migration of people around the globe in search of work has had a widespread and troubling result: the separation of families. In The Scattered Family, Cati Coe offers a sophisticated examination of this phenomenon among Ghanaians living in Ghana and abroad. Challenging oversimplified concepts of globalization as a wholly unchecked force, she details the diverse and creative ways Ghanaian families have adapted long-standing familial practices to a contemporary, global setting.

Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, Coe uncovers a rich and dynamic set of familial concepts, habits, relationships, and expectations—what she calls repertoires—that have developed over time, through previous encounters with global capitalism. Separated immigrant families, she demonstrates, use these repertoires to help themselves navigate immigration law, the lack of child care, and a host of other problems, as well as to help raise children and maintain relationships the best way they know how. Examining this complex interplay between the local and global, Coe ultimately argues for a rethinking of what family itself means. 

256 pages | 8 halftones, 2 maps, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


“In this fine-grained ethnographic work, Coe teases apart the microlevel lived experiences of families spread across borders. Overall, she has written a compelling account that is empirically and theoretically rich while successfully capturing the complexities of the lives of families spread across borders and the opportunities and sacrifices that entails.”

Dianna Shandy | Anthropological Quarterly

The Scattered Family: Parenting, African Migrants, and Global Inequality sensitively and intelligently queries what happens to people and communities in a world in which money and goods move across national borders more easily than people. . . . This is a wonderful book, developing sophisticated ideas about a most timely topic. It opens up new avenues of research regarding gender and work, and notions of race in the encounter between African migrants and African Americans. Its compelling case stories, exemplary research and analysis, and straightforward explanation of terms make.”

Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg | American Ethnologist

The Scattered Family is a highly engaging and well-researched book on a neglected topic that is sure to interest not only Africanist scholars but anyone interested in transnational migration and its effects on the family. Exploring the nature of family ties, particularly those between parents and children, among Ghanaians who have emigrated to the United States and Britain for work, Cati Coe contextualizes a host of carefully told narratives within the realm of immigration law and policy, addressing the lives of these migrants from a number of different, intriguing angles.”

Jennifer Hasty, University of Pennsylvania

“Much of the social research on immigration has focused on broad sociological issues in which scholars analyze economic, political, and legal issues. Except for recent works of exemplary fiction, family life among globally connected immigrant families has taken a representational back seat in the literature. Cati Coe’s wonderfully wrought ethnography, The Scattered Family, fills this important gap—brilliantly. Mixing compelling narratives with nuanced sociological and psychological analysis, Coe has put forward a compelling ethnography that describes with poignant power the social and emotional lives of Ghanaian immigrants—parents and their children—both in the US and in Ghana. This evocative book will be read and discussed for many years to come.”

Paul Stoller, author of The Power of the Between

“Cati Coe thoughtfully examines how Ghanaians ‘creatively enact the repertoire of family life’ following internal as well as external migration. This powerful examination reveals the interplay of cultural practice, historical influences, global economic forces, and policy barriers on this complex phenomenon.”

Carola Suárez-Orozco, University of California, Los Angeles

“This book is an important contribution to our understanding of transnational migration and the families separated by it. By showing the historical depth of Ghanaian practices of adoption and fostering and the malleability of concepts of parental love and care, Cati Coe eloquently demonstrates how scattered families and their repertoires arise not only from contemporary global economies but also from particular histories and cultural contexts.”

Katy Gardner, London School of Economics and Political Science

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Scattering of Families

One     A History of Family Reciprocities: Material Exchanges between the Generations in Akuapem 
Two     Distributed Parenting in the Twentieth Century
Three   International Migration and Fosterage: How US Immigration Law Separates Families 
Four    Work and Child Care in the United States         
Five     Borderwork: A Repertoire Made Conscious       
Six       The Dilemmas of Fostering the Children of Transnational Migrants 
Seven  Children’s Expectations of Care: Love, Money, and Living Together

Conclusion: Barriers and Openings 


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