Anth33


Intimate relationships, marriage, and social change in southern Africa 
Convenorss:
Koreen Reece (University of Edinburgh)
Kim Molenaar (Leiden University)
Senzokuhle Doreen Setume (University of Botswana)
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Stream:
Social Anthropology
Location:
Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.06
Sessions:
Friday 14 June, 8:45-10:15, 10:45-12:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

Marking both connections and ruptures between people, families, and communities, the state and the home, the past and the future, intimate relationships and marriage in southern Africa offer unique insights into the management and production of social change.

Long Abstract

Across southern Africa, intimate relationships are subject to constant social, moral, political, and emotional negotiation, scrutiny, and commentary. While public concern focuses on the potential ruptures threatened by increased rates of cohabitation, divorce, and non-(hetero)normative relationships, or the burdensome continuities of bridewealth payments, contemporary practices of intimacy seem to simultaneously preserve, disrupt and rework the practices of the past. From the colonial era through the era of AIDS, the management of these practices has been a central preoccupation of the state, churches, and civil society alike - underscoring the importance of intimate practices and relationships in shaping social change. This panel looks at the connections and disruptions wrought by intimacy and marriage on interpersonal, familial, national and transnational scales. We welcome work on everything from courtship to cohabitation, marriage and divorce, love and minority sexual rights, as well as on institutional intervention in related issues, from across southern Africa.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Flora Botelho (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper takes female jealousy as a lens through which to examine shifting relationship structures and social practices in Maputo, Mozambique, as well as local understandings and expectations of intimacy itself, and the way these respond to such changes.

Paper long abstract:

Over recent decades, marital patterns in informal neighbourhoods of Maputo have shifted from generalised, official polygyny to less well-defined forms of non-monogamy. Among older generations, cohabiting wives or multiple households were the norm, but these practices have since waned and now the vast majority of men have one official partner alongside varied other sexual relationships. Traditional wedding and bridewealth payments have simultaneously moved from the first to the last step in the process of constituting a family: after having children, living together and building a house. In this context, female jealousy is widely understood to be vastly more prevalent than before. It also takes a specific form that challenges the tendency to see it either as the expression of a wish for exclusivity produced by western romantic ideals and the criminalisation of polygamy or as a simple reaction to women's increasing lack of socio-economic security. Women in Maputo criticise jealous responses to infidelity as overly emotional, immature and negative, when they should better "pretend not to see". Women justify their own jealousy by referring to their partners' failure to fulfil their duties as husbands. I argue that jealousy sheds light on how intimacy itself is practised and understood: not as the mutual exposure of one's inner self, but as the mutual recognition of the other's particular position, rights and social status (i.e. it is about behaviour not character). The upsurge in jealousy can thus be seen as the response of this economy of intimacy to changing social practices.

Author:

Altaïr Despres (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

By examining how interracial couples in Zanzibar struggle with competing norms regarding love, sexuality and gender roles, the paper shows how they transform the understanding and practices of intimacy, and how social change is performed and embodied in individuals

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar has experienced new waves of Western migration. NGO volunteers, entrepreneurs in the tourism business, or foreign governments staff form a substantial expatriate community, often including a lot of young and single people who engage in intimate relationships with local populations. The important work on "sex tourism" in Africa have analyzed the complexity of intimate transactions between Western tourists and African people. Yet, as they primarily focus on tourism practices and temporalities, they often obscure long-lasting interracial relationships and their role in the transformation of the local understanding and practices of intimacy. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Zanzibar since 2015, during which I followed dozens of interracial couples, this paper examines how partners navigate, negotiate, engage, and possibly struggle with competing norms regarding love, marriage, sexuality and gender roles. By so doing, it looks at how social change is performed and embodied in individuals.

Moreover, while most of the literature on interracial intimacy has considered couples composed of a Western man and an African woman, Zanzibar offers an interesting reverse perspective. Indeed, the European migrants who settle in Zanzibar are predominantly educated women from the upper middle-class. They engage in intimate relationships with men who, for their part, are often poorly educated and belong to the impoverished fringes of the Tanzanian youth. This situation is of particular interest to understand the gendered logics and class inequalities that frame intimate practices and social change in Africa.

Author:

Senzokuhle Doreen Setume (University of Botswana)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how cohabiting unions offer social arena in which power relations between young and old generations are contested, negotiated and navigated. Through agency young people establish cohabiting unions to circumvent economic challenges and demonstrate flux in morality and relatedness.

Paper long abstract:

Over time, the rate of non-marital cohabitation has surpassed that of marriage in Botswana. The aim of this paper is to explore how non-marital cohabiting unions offer a social arena in which connections and ruptures in intimate relationships are pursued, unequal power relations between young and old are navigated, and in which modern and traditional expressions of relation formation and relatedness are contested. Based on a 14-month ethnographic study in Molepolole, Botswana, this paper argues that the rise of non-marital cohabitation simultaneously preserves and upsets traditional practices and ways of establishing marriage and family. This study examined three types of cohabitation: wife borrowing (cohabiting unions established with the consent of parents); non-consensual cohabitation (challenging parental authority); and visiting rights (parents grant the male partner visiting rights before marriage). These types are distinguished by the absence or presence of parental involvement in formally establishing the union. The increase in cohabiting unions displays agency on the part of younger generation. The young people use intimate relationships to create other kinds of social space for themselves in a social environment in which economic hardships, commodification and commercialisation of bogadi (bride-wealth) has become a barrier to marriage. The formation of non-marital cohabiting unions create an environment in which issues of exclusion and inclusion are constantly negotiated thereby allows us to trace flux in morality and relatedness over time.

Author:

Agness Mumba-Wilkins (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on recent research into Zambian youths' understandings of their sexuality and shows how this challenge the normative values of comprehensive sexuality education. It argues for more dialogue between local and imported knowledge and values to address early pregnancies and marriages.

Paper long abstract:

Zambian youth's sexual behaviours continue to be cited as contributing to high rates of early pregnancies, child marriages and new HIV infections. To address what are seen to be social problems linked to youth sexualities, the Zambian Government through the Ministry of General Education (MoGE), has since the early 1990s embraced comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) within the school curriculum. Nonetheless, despite the inclusion of sexuality education in the school curriculum, early pregnancies, marriages and new HIV infections among youths continue. This paper draws on recent in-depth qualitative research focused on youth understandings of sexuality in a remote ethnic community in Zambia. The research sought to privilege youth voices and involved observations, focus groups with male and female youth, and interviews with adult stakeholders such as; teachers, traditional counselors and community leaders. My analysis shows how youth's understandings of their sexual lives are still strongly shaped by indigenous knowledges, practices and values and that these sit in tension with the modern moral codes and values that are embraced by CSE. I argue that there is need for modern and traditional knowledges to be in dialogue together in any efforts to promote social change in youth sexualities, instead of these efforts assuming the erasure of rich indigenous knowledge and values. I further argue that CSE practitioners interested in supporting social change must attend to local knowledge embraced by youths in the different communities in which they are working, rather than assuming the superiority and relevance of Westernized knowledge, values and moral codes.

Author:

Thatshisiwe Ndlovu (Public Affairs Research Institute )

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which the ukuthwala custom (bride abduction) in South Africa is a marriage custom where culture is highly contested with women's bodies as the sites of struggle. The paper argues that contestations over culture are gendered.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which the ukuthwala custom (bride abduction) in South Africa is a marriage custom where culture is highly contested with women's bodies as the sites of struggle. The paper argues that contestations over culture are gendered, female bodies are the sites of these contestations. The paper questions who sanctions the custom and why and highlights the major players in the defining of the struggle. With the realization that women are not silent victims, the paper explores the ways in which resistance is incorporated into the everyday lives of women, theorising the nature of women's every day resistance in long running social conflicts. Drawing from life history narratives of "thwalaed" women's lived experiences, the paper examines the following critical points, first how do black women's dynamic positions shape their possibilities for negotiation and resistance, secondly, what are the strategies women employ to resist the imposition of these dehumanizing practices. As it's mainstay the paper emphasises that these women's resistance is not concerned with large scale protests or overt activism, rather it depends on daily subtle resistance (Scott, 1986).The paper is based on a year of ethnographic study in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The central focus for the study was Engcobo area where the accused in a landmark case ruling that criminalised ukuthwala came from.

Author:

Koreen Reece (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares two weddings in Botswana - a mass wedding conducted by an NGO, and a family celebration - to explore the persistent ambiguity of Tswana wedding rituals, and to examine the role of ambiguity in producing social change.

Paper long abstract:

For much of the past generation in Botswana, marriage has seemed increasingly difficult to attain. Public concern here, and elsewhere in southern Africa, has crystallised around a purported 'crisis of marriage', discerned in dwindling marriage rates and rising rates of cohabitation and divorce (Pauli and van Dijk 2016). Blame has fallen on new expectations of lavish celebrations, and long-standing expectations around the payment of bridewealth (bogadi) alike - pressures heightened as the once extended, processual dynamics of Tswana marriage rituals have been foreshortened into one-off events (Solway 2016, van Dijk 2010). But recent years have seen a burst of weddings again, with marriages being concluded more rapidly, by younger couples, and at even greater expense than ever before. Churches, District Administrator's offices, and even NGOs have been active proponents of this trend, positing the intimate connections of marriage as a panacaea to the disruptions posed by a range of social ills, including the AIDS epidemic. But while the weddings they conduct promise change, they achieve it in unexpected and unpredictable ways - rearranging natal families, creating new distinctions as well as connections, and generating uncertainty in intimate and kin relationships. This paper compares a mass wedding conducted by an NGO with a family celebration to explore the ways in which ambiguity persists in Tswana wedding rituals, and to examine the role of that ambiguity in producing opportunities for social change.

Author:

Julia Pauli (University of Hamburg)

Paper short abstract:

The paper scrutinizes how marriage has evolved into a neoliberal intimate project for black Namibian middle class couples. In their marriages, couples simultaneously grapple with their expectations of a happy marriage and a happy life and their fears of failing in both.

Paper long abstract:

Since the end of apartheid in 1990, Namibia has gone through a period of rapid social and economic change. Although racial inequalities continue, a black middle class has nevertheless emerged in the country's urban centers. Not yet steadily settled in their new class positions, members of this emerging middle class grapple with multiple fears and expectations. Unlike most Namibians who lack the money to marry, middle class urbanites are almost always married. Marriage, now an exclusive institution, has become an intimate project to manage expectations of love, happiness and the good life. The dark side of such neoliberal intimacies is the fear of failing and falling. Anxieties about the end of love and one's own fading attractiveness are met with self-improving techniques like diets and sport. At the same time, older forms of marital consolidation like bridewealth, rural homeland weddings and consultations of the elders in times of crisis likewise persist. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in rural and urban Namibia, this paper scrutinizes what the management of intimate anxieties of married middle class couples means for the understanding of marriage - as a site of hope and security but also fear and failure - within the context of rapidly changing life worlds.