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Schild, ​Hannah Svea

BIGSAS Junior Fellow Hannah Schild

Research Interests:

Parenting & Parenthood (Motherhood, Fatherhood), Gender, Future Making, Kinship, (dealing with) Uncertainty

Geographical Area:


Current Project:

The Work of Bringing up Children. Parental Practices in Times of Uncertainty in East Africa

All around the world, parenthood and the eventual outcomes of parental work are highly context-dependent and characterized by multiple uncertainties. In circumstances marked by additional economic and social uncertainty, the work of bringing up children increases in difficulty and the efforts of parents to create better futures for and through their children become significantly more complex.

Resting on this premise, my PhD project explores the issue of ‘making a living’ in times of uncertainty from a new angle, namely, that of parents of children and adolescents in post-Structural Adjustment sub-Saharan Africa, thus expanding previous perspectives on navigation and future making. Additionally, given that there are obvious gaps in the research and literature on parenting and parenthood – specifically a bias for motherhood – I broaden gendered perspectives on parenting, parenthood, and parental aspirations, by using a joint approach and considering the parental work of both female and male actors. Building on my previous work on maternal navigation in Zanzibar, my research is guided by the overall question of how people who parent experience and deal with uncertainty.

Based on Esther Goody’s influential work, the project approaches parenting as a practice that is compounded of different tasks which can be redistributed to different people within a kinship network and that aims at guiding children into a successful and effective adult status. Both male and female actors, as well as ‘biological’ and ‘social’ parents can fulfil, share, and delegate parental roles. These parental practices represent an important way that kinship and belonging are made and manifested.

Secondly, parenthood is understood as strongly influenced by gendered and normative images that influence the distribution, execution, and valuation of parental tasks and roles. As previous approaches have often taken a focus on either father- or motherhood or have implicitly equated parenthood with motherhood, it is necessary to untangle the gendered practices and norms that influence parents’ actions to understand how they mutually constitute each other. In this context I also explore the role of social, religious, and political institutions in the (re)production of the gendered norms of parenthood.

Finally, my project combines considerations about parenthood with debates about uncertainty in African contexts, which so far have mainly focused on young, mostly male actors in urban areas. Parents navigate uncertainty in order to cope with the present ('getting by'), but also to secure a future for themselves and their offspring ('getting on'); a practice presumably involving much higher and complex stakes than the individualized efforts of relatively unattached youth.

I will investigate these questions and dynamics in a total of twelve months of episodic anthropological field research in the city of Lindi in south-eastern Tanzania, which promises to be an interesting case study as a place currently in transition due to infrastructural and economic changes over the last few years and the near future. My main research methods are participant observation, social network analysis and qualitative interviews, guided by an exploratory, inductive and - above all – relational methodological approach and taking place in three main settings, namely families, institutions (NGOs, state institutions, religious institutions) and the public sphere.

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