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What is Love? The Materiality of Care in Ghanaian Transnational Families



In the West, economics and intimacy are assumed to occupy separate – even antithetical – domains. In Ghanaian family life, however, affection is understood to be expressed through the distribution of material resources across generations and a person’s life cycle. Such an understanding of love means that migrant parents who leave their children behind in Ghana can continue to be good parents by sending remittances, and, in fact, may be considered better parents than caregivers who stay and are poorer. This construction of love also means that children tend to attach themselves to more financially secure caregivers over those with fewer economic opportunities — to men in favour of women, to those abroad over those in Ghana. It is precisely because love is signalled through material exchanges that children long to be with parental migrants far away who support them and feel abandoned by those parents who do not. The intertwining of economic and emotional ties in Ghanaian transnational families has significant implications for policy, as discussed in the conclusion.