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Expanding the Family Frame: Social Specialists, Mediated Experiences, and Gendered Images of Mobility in Transnational Wedding Videos

Abstract

This contribution explores the role of wedding videos in shaping transnational social relationships. Examining the production and aesthetic means of these ‘mobile images of mobility’, I show how videographers serve as ritual and social specialists to bring to the fore a fictionalized, imagined place of transnational social relationships. As evidence of ‘memory objects’ for life events, these videos form the basis for mediated experiences in transnational settings, relating those depicted to those engaging in and those watching the videos. They all become part of the social relationships that are inscribed in the video. Yet this imaginary filmic space creates gendered, contested spaces of mobility and immobility.

Keywords

  • Wedding videos
  • Videographer
  • Mobile images
  • Circulation
  • Mediated experiences
  • Transnational social relationships
  • Migration and mobility
  • Social media

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The article is based on ethnographic research in Berlin (8 months) and Dakar (6 months) for a PhD project on social media practices and transnational social relationships between Germany and Senegal. The languages of the fieldwork were French, German, and Wolof, sometimes with the help of a language assistant. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who took part in and contributed to this research. Additionally, I thank the German Research Foundation for their generous support of the Research Training Group ‘Locating Media’ at the University of Siegen and the project ‘Media Related Configurations of Transnational Social Spaces between Africa and Europe’ at the University of Cologne.

  2. 2.

    In the East African context, video technology has been used as part of wedding ceremonies since the 1980s (Behrend, 2014, 190), whereas it seems that this has only been noted in West Africa since the 1990s (Schulz, 2012, 91; Mustafa, 2002, 185).

  3. 3.

    During my research, I only encountered male videographers accompanying weddings with their cameras. I see this male gaze as part of the production of images. Through the crafting of images, ordering men and women to pose in certain ways, they play a significant role in the gendered construction and shaping of social relationships in the images.

  4. 4.

    Some videographers order professional editing services for the arranging and effects editing of their footage. In such cases, usually only the editing studio is mentioned in the video.

  5. 5.

    In Wolof, dénk means trust or recommend. This part of the ceremony serves as a code of conduct for the bride. Mostly male family members give their moral advice on how to behave properly as a wife or daughter-in-law (see Diop, 1985, 128 ff.).

  6. 6.

    In their respective works, Rebecca Savage (2012, 86) and Heike Behrend (2014, 189 ff.) mention that male videographers are denied access to female wedding ceremonies and therefore female videographers are sought to document these parts. They do not discuss how these images are represented or who is allowed to see these intimate gendered images. In Dakar, I only encountered two women working as secretaries in photo studios and one camera woman in the context of professional TV productions.

  7. 7.

    Rabal (French pagne) is a cotton cloth for skirts, which are of special importance for ritual occasions (cf., Mustafa, 2002; Buggenhagen, 2011).

  8. 8.

    Géwël in Wolof refers to the ‘caste’ of musicians, dancers, and praise singers who are usually invited to ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms (for music and dance, see especially Tang, 2007; Bizas, 2014; Neveu Kringelbach, 2013; for the Malian context of praise singing in the context of mass media, see Schulz, 2001).

  9. 9.

    That’s why she asked me to provide her with a copy of her wedding video, as she hadn’t archived a version for herself.

  10. 10.

    The genre of the wedding video was consolidated through the festival of wedding films (Festival de Films de Mariage—Fefima), which has taken place in the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor since 2012. Here, the films are shown as semiprofessional work of personal memory culture, recognizing societal importance in the documenting of wedding rituals.

  11. 11.

    The different meanings of ‘memory’ and ‘remembrance’ or in French souvenir, mémoire, and reminiscence, all translate in Wolof as fatili (verb and noun). ‘To recollect’ (fatili, also faateleku) is used as a verb in everyday parlance to reference the first-hand experience of an event as well as the experience through means of photography and video.

  12. 12.

    For details on the meaning of lavish wedding ceremonies in Senegal, see Buggenhagen (2011, 2012). For a perspective on moderate and invisible wedding ceremonies in Dakar, see Hann (2013).

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Pfeifer, S. (2021). Expanding the Family Frame: Social Specialists, Mediated Experiences, and Gendered Images of Mobility in Transnational Wedding Videos. In: Vailati, A., Zamorano Villarreal, G. (eds) Ethnographies of ‘On Demand’ Films. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78911-4_8

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