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Communicative Care Across Borders: Language, Materiality, and Affect in Transnational Family Life


In recent years, scholars of language and social life have grappled with the implications of increasing global connection for the field’s foundational concepts. Addressing lacunae in such research, this dissertation takes a bottom-up approach to the study of language and mobility, starting with the linguistic practices of everyday life to demonstrate how such communication produces and reproduces the forms of social organization through which human movement is experienced and understood. Inspired by foundational work and emerging theories within linguistic anthropology that argue separately for the importance of materiality and affect, the dissertation suggests that incorporating the linguistic, the affective, and the material into a single analytical framework productively elucidates the implications of cross-border ties. The dissertation illustrates the analytical purchase of this unified approach through an examination of everyday communication in transnational families living stretched between El Salvador and the United States. Utilizing a multisited methodology that analyzes the complete circuit of transnational life, the dissertation studies how such mundane cross-border conversations sustain family belonging.

The analysis draws on interdisciplinary feminist research on care to suggest that these interactions instantiate communicative care, a novel concept developed through the dissertation’s examination of three specific communicative practices. The first analytical chapter explores transnational greetings, demonstrating how this everyday ritual constructs and maintains affective kin ties in ways that ultimately support the material well-being of family members who are economically dependent on migrant remittances. The subsequent chapter analyzes these material negotiations in greater detail, elucidating the deft linguistic practices through which the families protect their ongoing relationships while managing the profound economic inequalities that characterize their cross-border lives. The final analytical chapter explores how families remember together in transnational conversations, building scenarios of idealized family life that link memories of the past with imagined togetherness, thus interweaving the materiality of embodied personas as well as their affective orientations. Through this analysis, the dissertation contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of language and mobility, shedding light on the fundamental imbrication of materiality, affect, and language in such experiences.

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