Akesson, Lisa. 2011. Remittances and Relationships: Exchange in Cape Verdean Transnational Families. Ethnos. 76(3): 326-347
The economic perspective on remittances “obscures the inherently social and relational character of remittance transactions” (328). Akesson argues that the transfer of funds through remittances is inextricably related to social relationships and to people’s notions of their obligations to one another (326). Using ethnographic examples from Cape Verde, the author suggests that remittances are highly gendered and hierarchized. For instance, fathers who only intermittently send money are not usually referred to as “ingrates,” unless they forget to keep in touch. On the other hand, women may easily be regarded as ingrates should they fail to fulfil their perceived obligation to send remittances (340). Children are expected to repay the sacrifices of their parents (338), as “to remember and to send money is to show respect for moral notions of a balanced emotional and material reciprocity that ideally characterizes family relations” (337). Following Marcel Mauss’s (1925) notion of the “spirit of the gift” which creates ties between the exchanging parties, the sending of remittances in contemporary Cape Verdean migration is likewise embedded in a framework of “generalized reciprocity.” In the case of overseas remittances, the recipient will not openly express gratitude for the money gift received, but will in the long term express gratitude by strengthening social ties with the giver – for example, showing respect over the phone, or by taking the sender’s side during family arguments (333-4). Through this Cape Verdean example, the author argues for a “shift in anthropology towards a more relativistic understanding of money” (340). Contrary to previous Western understanding of “money” as impersonal, the article points to the increasing view of money transactions as an “intrinsic part of the maintenance and shaping of close family and kinship ties” (341).