Over the last three decades, the number of people moving within and across borders has grown spectacularly, as have concerns over the permeability of cultures, regions, or nations. Intimacy has become a salient “engine of mobility”. As people migrate in search for ways to establish and regenerate familial and affective attachments – and to detach themselves from others – intimacy sets bodies in motion in unexpected ways. In Kenya, queer people arriving from across East Africa invoke being violently targeted for their sexuality to claim asylum in Western European countries. In Madagascar, meanwhile, young women seek marriages with French men to imagine a better future abroad. But, if intimacy drives mobility, it is now also a central moral criterion for crafting belonging and exclusion. Indeed, just what kinds of intimate beings we are turning out to be ever more decisive to our encompassment in kinship, citizenship, and governance. In the U.K., young gay men arriving from Africa encounter systems of racialization that produce their Blackness, not least through erotic desires and encounters. Intimacy becomes thus also an evocative means and motive of separation, immobility, and loneliness. In Ghana, as the young leave rural areas in search of livelihoods, the elderly come to live intimately with their absence-an absence generative of new affective and material relations.

Examining the conditions of possibility and social outcomes of new intersections of intimacy, mobility, and belonging, this project addresses the following question: How do emerging intimacies drive the intensification of mobility, and what kinds of intimate arrangements, attachments, and arrestments does movement generate? Anchored in ethnographic research along the geopolitical axis Africa-Europe, we think of the nexus intimacy–im/mobility–belonging as a “triad” – that is, a salient grid of the political economy of late capitalism that shapes social worlds in ways that require careful examination.

The anthropological literatures on intimacy; migration and mobility; and belonging and citizenship have overlapped only minimally. To the extent that anthropologists have discussed, for example, “intimate mobilities”, they have deployed these terms to refer narrowly to sexuality and migration. By contrast, this project sets out to think of (i) intimacy as also entailing kinship, affect, and the contemporary political discourses that center personal and domestic life; (ii) mobility as entangling migration in myriad intersecting forms of movement but also immobility or sedentarism; and (iii) belonging as negotiated through the regulation of intimate mobilities.

Thinking thus of “intimate im/mobilities” involves an effort to decenter these terms precisely in order to better understand the historical centrality of the triad intimacy–im/mobility–belonging in the present. This project involves in-depth ethnographic research on four focal points – from village to the city, from forays abroad to intermittent returns – that, together, mirror different stages of migration. Distributed across Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, and the U.K., these focal points tell a shared story about how intersections of intimacy, mobility, and belonging generate new struggles over money, wealth, and worth; gender, bodies, and personhood; age, generation, and care; and ritual, religion, and reproduction. They also capture a fuller range of mobile and non-mobile actors in their engagements with intimacy, both along South-South and South-North axes.

This project’s goals are to (i) understand how the triad intimacy-im/mobility-belonging manifests on a global scale; (ii) capture differences and similarities between its unfoldings in these different sites; and (iii) assess its particularities along the geopolitical axis Africa-Europe.

The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant number 220043), hosted by the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Basel.