Eva Evers Rosander, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University and associate senior researcher, the Nordic Africa Institute

The Illusio of Marriage: Polygyny for Migrants in Senegal and Spain

Pierre Bourdieu’s more than wellknown concepts habitus, conatus and illusio are fruitfully discussed in the Preface of Michael Jackson’s book Existential Anthropology (2005). Jackson does so in order to strengthen his own argument about the relevance of the mentioned three concepts for dealing with human situations like those involving “Second Nature and Second Life” in people’s  “struggle for being” (ibid:vii).
The migrant’s hope for a better life and her/his  ambition to transform the lifeworld through praxis, creating a sense of life being worth living, offers a condition of well-being  which Bourdieu captures in the term of conatus. (Jackson ibid:xxii). By habitus Jackson refers to, in accordance with Bourdieu, what happens with culture, when it comes to be experienced as a kind of ‘second nature’. Social order is seen as natural order, determined by our genetic and ancestral past. Moreover, Jackson says, it is this reification of the social order that lays the groundwork for structural violence, as when androcentric doxa is imposed on women, because it reflects an ‘ancestral’ or ‘natural’ order of things, in which all involved display the same tendency of human action, not only to conserve the past, but to initiate new possibilities.
Though the migrant may have an illusio founded on a hope for a better life in the country to which she or he has migrated, this illusion may prove to be based on unreasonable expectations and false hopes. “La misère du monde” Bourdieu defines as the condition of hopelessness that follows from this widening gap between expectations and chances – these failures of hope (in Ibid 2005: xxii-v).
It is within this conceptual framework – although much simplified - that I will situate my current discussion about polygyny among Senegalese female and male migrants inside and outside Senegal. Polygyny as a marriage form is increasing in number among Senegalese migrants, according to what the migrants themselves say, although it is taking partly new forms, for which I will make account in the seminar. Divorces are also augmenting in number, as it seems. I have no certain statistics about these issues, but will compare with available national statistics. The most important influencing factor for this development is of course the access to financial means – or the hope for such means. In a few drastic words I could say that if access to financial means in the diaspora for men means new possibilities to create polygynous marriages, for women the avoidance of polygynous marriages will be one of the most important positive consequences of earning good money (this is based on field data from Tenerife). For those who fail to reach any financial status, different ideas about a better future, nourished by illusio, which may include magical means still remain.

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