Accepted paper:

A migration history in a plastic bag: on photographic affective archives of West African transnational migration


Ann Cassiman (University of Leuven)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks into the history of migratory biographies of people of the zongo (Accra) as constructed and narrated through personal and family photographic archives, thereby taking these archives as material objects opening and discontinuing complex webs of affective relations.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic research with various families of the 'zongos' of Accra, this paper looks into the history of migratory biographies as constructed and narrated through personal and family photo archives and their material trajectories. These personal photographic archives are usually kept in a rubber bag and show condensed migratory biographies of family members who traveled from neighboring West-African countries, and of others who are still in the countries of origin but who are remembered through their images. The 'zongo' is a predominantly Muslim Hausaphone neighborhood of people from all over West-Africa who settled in Ghana. Through the (material) exchange and storage of photos between often dispersed family members, social and affective ties are constructed, remembered and reconfirmed. New connections between kin and friends are made as well, through the swapping of photographs of one another, including relatives abroad. As such personal photo archives not only reflect one's family's biographic history, but also act as sites of affective relations across borders and oceans. In this paper I open up the archive of the wife of a Mossi chief, of the daughter of a Togolese border trader and of an extremely mobile 'hustler'. I interweave the indexical value of their archives with their material historicity, thereby taking photo archives as material objects and archives of affect. I propound that the photos not only construct histories of migration and belonging, but also stand for possibilities of renewed social connections and future mobility when stored and exchanged within complex webs of affective relations.

panel Anth53
Photographs as objects of affective connection and disruption