Accepted paper:

"Conjugal Interruptions and Strewn Families: Reflections on the Temporal Disjunctures and Truncations of Illegalized Life"


Sarah Willen (University of Connecticut)

Paper short abstract:

Not only does illegalization take a toll on migrant families, but it can also thwart their creation in the first place—and hasten their demise. This paper explores the impact of illegalization and sociopolitical abjection on a Nigerian nuclear family of 5 who never met in one place—and never will.

Paper long abstract:

For illegalized migrant families and families-in-potentia, the biopolitical fortification of nation-state boundaries can produce jarring temporal disjunctures and truncations. Not only do migrants' illegalization and sociopolitical abjection take a toll on families, but—given the acutely time-sensitive nature of human reproductive endeavors—they can even thwart migrants' ability to create families in the first place. Illegalization can thus meddle with life's beginnings, and it can hasten life's end as well. The physiological consequences of illegalization and sociopolitical abjection can exacerbate migrants' levels of embodied stress, heighten their vulnerability to injury and disease, and foreshorten their lives. This paper explores these conjugated consequences of illegalization for a Nigerian nuclear family of 5 (mother, father, and three children) who never met in a single place—and who never will. Drawing on 16-years of longitudinal fieldwork, the paper explores how this Nigerian couple struggled over two decades (1990s-2010s) and three countries (Nigeria, Israel, and the United Kingdom) to create, then unite the family they desired. The paper considers the material, psychic, and spiritual resources needed to launch this familial project (among them financial savings, familial support, carefully cultivated social networks, religious faith, conjugal trust, and patience), as well as the spatial, temporal, legal, and sociopolitical obstacles that stood in their way. I argue that this particular family's legacy of bold experimentation raises profound questions not only about the moral status of borders and border-crossers, but also about the extraordinary ways in which conjugal commitment—and, no less, love—figure in human efforts to flourish and thrive.

panel P111
Trapped in space, stuck in time? Exploring irregular migration, time and im/mobility