’Family, health and reproduction in East Africa, 1950-2017’
Presented by : Shane Doyle (University of Leeds) ; Discussant : Christian Thibon (Université de Pau)
In the early 1980s important articles by Jane Guyer (1981) and Megan Vaughan (1983) noted the problems of the family as a unit of analysis, its indeterminacy and its association with structuralist or evolutionary models which distorted African reality. Their sense that the family could best be analysed through a study of evolving relationships, or the lens of alternative frameworks or institutions, such as the household or peergroup, was not the lesson taken from their work. Rather, scholarship has refocused on the history of related topics such as clanship, gender, intimacy, and youth, which tended to displace rather than reframe the family. Demographic recording and analysis similarly tends to marginalise the family. ‘Family planning’ and ‘ideal family size’ are in reality fertility measures, focused primarily on individual preference. Yet the family is pervasive in public discourse around reproduction. Politicians and elders condemn fertility decline as a symptom of the prioritisation of the individual over family and lineage. Unmarried mothers, homosexuality and child sacrifice have been portrayed as threats to both ethnic viability and ill-defined family values. This paper will examine the evolving relationship between family and reproduction in colonial and post-colonial Kenya and Uganda. It will discuss how familial relationships have been defined and recorded by different churches and medical institutions, and whether linking individuals across these two systems of registration enhances family reconstitution. In addition, it will consider how reproductive decision-making has been shaped over time by changing familial, peer and professional relationships.
Shane Doyle teaches history at the University of Leeds. He studied at Cambridge and SOAS, and was previously Assistant Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. His most recent book Before HIV. Sexuality, Fertility and Mortality in East Africa, 1900-1980 (British Academy and OUP, 2013) won the African Studies Association’s Ogot prize. His current research, funded by the British Academy and UK Medical research Council, examines the history of fertility change and maternal health in East Africa.