Accepted paper:

Intimate relationships and social change: non-marital cohabitation in Molepolole, Botswana


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.

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