Accepted paper:

Economies of intimacy: jealousy in a post-polygynous world


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.

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