Accepted paper:

Intimate anxieties. Fears and expectations in Namibian middle class marriages


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.

panel Anth33
Intimate relationships, marriage, and social change in southern Africa