EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W028)

Family dynamics and practical kinship in Africa

Location JHT10
Date and Start Time 25 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Joel Noret (Université Libre de Bruxelles) email
Benjamin Rubbers (Université de Liège) email
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Long Abstract

In a context marked by an increasing economic insecurity and spatial mobility, family dynamics have become a hotly debated issue both in African households and African studies. However, this topic would certainly gain from a focus on the influence of everyday relationships in the re-definition of family roles and networks. By taking practical kinship as a point of departure, this workshop aims at reflecting upon changes (a) in gender identities, (b) in relations between generations, and (c) in the place of extended families, or lineages, in the everyday life of African households. This tri-dimensional focus on practical kinship is meant to allow discussion about larger issues such as trust, respect, reciprocity, domesticity, or belonging. The decline of living conditions and the transnationalisation of families in the last twenty years show just how important a detailed study of these topics is for our understanding of contemporary Africa.

The following are possible areas of investigation for this workshop: how various family models, or ideologies, influence actual relationships between relatives? What changes do we observe in the reciprocity practices between generations? How did the definitions of motherhood and fatherhood evolve in the past thirty years? In African societies historically marked by slavery, do past slave relations still matter in the organization of lineages? This list of questions is not exhaustive. The aim of this workshop is to offer empirical data and theoretical insight about family dynamics in Africa. All paper proposals dealing with this subject are welcome.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Changes in reciprocity practices between generations: the case of urban Burkina Faso

Author: Claudia Roth (University of Berne)  email
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Long Abstract

In contemporary urban Burkina Faso, there are no alternatives to old age security assured by the proper children. However our research on intergenerational relations in poor families at Bobo-Dioulasso shows that the cycle of debt and thus reciprocity between generations is interrupted or the debt is not fully compensated. In half of the cases, old parents care for their adult unmarried children without income (inverted intergenerational contract). This new practice produces social tensions which the elderly men and women like to veil in order to maintain their customary role as family elderly and the power connected with it. The young people on their part seem to pursue a new path: indeed they suffer of not being able to care for their old aged parents the way they should. But their main efforts aim to get full social status as a respected member of society. These changes in the reciprocity practices endanger the elderly who continue to pauperize. Up to now it is an open question whether at least the young people can benefit.

Youth and family in Cape Verde: practical relations beyond moral crisis

Author: Filipe Martins (CRIA/UMinho; CEDH - Catholic University of Portugal)  email
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Long Abstract

In Cape Verde in recent decades, youth gained salience as a demographic group as well as a social and symbolic category, strongly associated with pleasure, crime and moral crisis. The dominant discourses of and about youths, both highlight a paradoxical vision of the family. Evoked as the most important dimension in young people lives and the basis of capeverdean society, contemporary families are also seen as in crisis, "desestruturadas" (unstructured) and pointed as the roots of all social problems.

Based on ethnographic data collected with youths and families in urban Cape Verde, this paper proposes a critical analysis beyond moral discourses on family and youth crisis. Transnational family networks and intergenerational reciprocity are revealed as the major resources for young people to develop their identities, life expectations and choices, as well as to deal with the growing ambiguity and uncertainty associated with the condition of youth in contemporary Cape Verde.

Those who wait: late life lingerings and generational succession in Kenya

Author: Mark Lamont (Goldsmiths, UL)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper is about generations and relational ageing within Kenyan families, and asks what part waiting plays in collective social experience. With an ethnographic focus on several rural Kenyan families, what methodologies can anthropologists develop to study the affective materiality of generational succession? This paper explores a social context where age-set formation has historically defined the timing and anticipation of succession. By fixing attention on the shifting relations between proximate and adjacent generations in the last thirty years or so, it emerges that the role of parenting and grand-parenting has changed in ways that have provoked something of a moral panic about the youth of today, while eclipsing the status of late life. As succession is fraught with conflict embedded in the affective materiality of property, especially of land and houses, many Kenyans are compelled to forge new kinds of relationships within families based on individualized aspirations, thereby re-evaluating reciprocity.

'Passing through the gate as one': a house and its people in Bamako, Mali

Author: Bodil Olesen (Århus University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper is about the Bagayoko compound in Djikoroni-Para, a neighborhood in Bamako, Mali.

Counting the widow Bakonimba, her four sons and their wives, and her first grandson and his wife and children, the Bagayokos are known and respected for being "so kelen," "one house, " the ideal family with four generations living together.

I describe the material transformations in the compound as Mamadou, Bakonimba's grandson, refurbished his house when he underwent civil marriage, and his uncle Idrissa married a second wife and constructed a space for her.

I also describe the contrast in material possessions between generations, and the conflicts and negotiations between "somogow," "house people," over the distribution of assets.

These relationships between the house as a material, everyday environment and a metaphor of kinship shows how a particular family in very practical terms has procured a livelihood and realized its social aspirations in a post-colonial, urban context.

How to remain a 'father' in times of privation? Respect and reciprocity in the families of Gécamines workers, D.R. Congo

Author: Benjamin Rubbers (Université de Liège)  email
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Long Abstract

In 2003, 10 000 workers aged over 50 years old were made redundant by the Gécamines, once the biggest mining corporation of Congo-Kinshasa. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a cité ouvrière, this papers aims at understanding how these senior workers face this situation in their roles as husband, father, and relative. As they experience difficulty in meeting their family's needs, how do they re-negotiate their relationship with their wife, children, and kin? To answer this question, this paper will focus on expectations of respect and reciprocity underlying these bonds. More generally, it will make the argument that the colonial model of the nuclear family, promoted by the company and the church, remains influential in the structuring of the family.

Changing household dynamics in urban Ethiopia

Author: Gunilla Bjerén (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

Nearly 40 years ago I collected household data and migration histories for a study of migration patterns around a town in southern Ethiopia. I've now returned to the town and collected material for a new study, which allows for comparison. Looking at change it appears obvious that household relations are quite different today as compared to the situation before the revolution. In this paper I want to discuss two aspects of current households compared to the ones I recorded in 1973. 1) Children remain in the parental home until they are adult (above 18). The presence of unmarried young women is particularly noticeable. 2) The marital turnover has slowed down. Women and men do fewer marital relations during their life-time. At the conference I want to discuss the dynamics behind these changes.

Descent, tombs and avoidance of marriage with slave descendants in Southern Betsileo, Madagascar

Author: Denis Regnier (Université Libre de Bruxelles)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper gives an account of the strong avoidance of marriage with slave descendants in the southern Betsileo region of Madagascar, trying to explain why such a practice has persisted for more than a century after the abolition of slavery in the country, and this in spite of ubiquitous discourse of the kind 'we are all equals now'. Pre-colonial status distinctions (nobles, commoners and slaves) remain an important feature of social life. The paper shows how the avoidance of marriage with slave descendants is grounded in Betsileo ideas about descent, ancestors, pollution and collective tombs. It then describes practical aspects of Betsileo kinship which make easy to identify the slave descent of potential marriage partners, such as public displays of genealogies at funerary events and the use of kinship networks to gather information. The paper finally explores the consequences of this state of affairs for slave descendant kinship and marriage.

Family dynamics and funerals in southern Benin

Author: Joel Noret (Université Libre de Bruxelles)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper, I intend to show how funerals are often entwined with serious family issues in southern Benin. In fact, as moments when diverse solidarities are (un)made, when patronage relationships, and "forms of community" as well as social differences are (re)produced, funerals certainly constitute key sites of social change in contemporary Africa. Additionally, as they mobilize important amounts of resources in southern Benin, they often create debates in families and lineages, and expenses consented in these moments may be seriously debated in both nuclear and extended families. For instance, a man burying his father or his mother must typically arbitrate, when engaging expenses, between his social engagements as son, but also as a father and a spouse. Competing social commitments are not always easy to manage, and funerals are moments par excellence when various kin relationships are put to the test.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.