“ but I Cannot Touch Her” : Relational Loss and the Use of Technology in South African Emigrant Families

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal I (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Maria MARCHETTI-MERCER, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Much of the migration literature focuses on the experiences of and challenges to emigrants and their families, but, by comparison, little attention has been paid to the psychological effects of emigration on family and friends left behind. 

However, emigration is never an individual event with its impact far-reaching, affecting more than the emigrating individual or family. Transnational perspectives acknowledge that family relations extend across time and distance recognizing the experiences of those left behind.

In this paper I will use the South African phenomenon of emigration as a context within which to explore migration and its impact on family life especially on the elderly left behind. Historically, the country has been characterized by migration trends often linked to specific political events. More recently we are seeing a so-called “brain-drain” with many leaving because of political and economic uncertainty, and growing levels of crime and violence.

Consequently many older people find themselves with reduced family support with children living very far from them.  They may experience emotional ambivalence regarding their children’s departure as well as deep feelings of loss. The possibility of future visits may often be thwarted by distance and financial constraints, since many South African emigrants choose distant destination countries that are difficult and expensive to reach. This may be experienced as a further obstacle to maintaining long-term connections. Furthermore, the burden of care of elderly parents may rest on remaining family members adding strain to family relationships.

Recent research on migration is examining the multiple ways in which families negotiate the physical absence of loved ones and maintain relationships through the use technology. In this paper I will focus on how the use technology is experienced by ageing South Africans affected by emigration and whether this type of interaction is sufficient to maintain meaningful and supportive family relationships