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Working Mis/Understandings: The Tangled Relationship between Kinship, Franco-Malagasy Binational Marriages, and the French State

By Jennifer Cole

Cite As:
Cole, Jennifer. 2014. “Working Mis/Understandings: The Tangled Relationship Between Kinship, Franco-Malagasy Binational Marriages, and the French State”. Cultural Anthropology 29 (3), 527-51.


Marriage migration and family reunification have become one of the few ways for migrants from former French colonies to gain legal entry to France. As a result, love, marriage, and kinship have become central to the politics of contemporary border control. Based on extensive research with Franco-Malagasy families in southwestern France, this article examines how couples negotiate the complexities of their binational relationships in the context of state-fostered xenophobia and suspicion. I suggest the analytic of a working mis/understanding to capture how these marriages operate. While at one level the working mis/understanding enables Malagasy women and French men to bridge their different notions of kinship, at another level it naturalizes a long-standing colonial relationship between France and Madagascar. I further consider how the sociocultural dynamics of the working mis/understanding illuminate how state regulations produce the commodification of intimate relations allegedly intrinsic to these marriages.


marriage; citizenship; politics of immigration; working misunderstanding; kinship; France; Madagascar