Modernisation and Distress in Men's and Women's Lives: African Experiences

Researcher: Liv Haram

The project was established in 2001 and ended in 2005

The research project dealt with societies in transformation and rapid change brought about by modernisation and globalisation which increase stress and uncertainty in the everyday life of young men and women. Based on previous research from northern Tanzania, it aimed to assess how people experience and live with economic, social and emotional stress. Rather than focusing on suffering and seeing people as merely victims of adverse circumstances, the project sought to understand how people respond and act upon their life situation in an increasingly troubled world. More specifically, it sought to identify those institutions and categories of persons mobilised under periods of great stress, on the one hand, and the economic and socio-cultural factors that limit such care and support in times of emotional stress and personal crisis, on the other.

How do people experience and live with grave problems, such as, various forms of affliction, anxiety, death and grief? And how do people respond to such problems; how are they manifested and played out in particular life-settings or in the ‘local moral worlds’?

How are uncertainties and suffering locally constructed? Do people draw upon specific ‘cultural models’, techniques or prescriptions and, thus, rely on a specific course of action when they are facing grave problems and contingencies in life? Do Africans generally take a pragmatic approach to suffering and misfortune, as some scholars have argued, and might they thus be regarded as less likely to be alienated and helpless in a risky or uncertain world? These are some of the central questions that are addressed in the research project.

Study area
The study was conducted in Arusha town and the surrounding (semi-urban and rural) districts. Arusha town, with a population of 134,708, and its immediate surroundings, is an expansive urban area and an important crossroad for business people and truck drivers travelling between Dar es Salaam the capital of Tanzania and Nairobi in Kenya. Arusha is also a flourishing commercial tourist centre and attracts people from all over Tanzania as well as from other African countries and Europe. Like most East African towns, Arusha now has a more balanced gender composition compared with the past when male outnumbered women. People, and particularly the young generations, living in the villages and roadside settlements surrounding the town commute either daily or weekly to the urban centre, for economic and social purposes.

The study applied a variety of anthropological methods, such as participants observation, household-survey, structured and unstructured interviews, extended case studies and disease and illness narratives.

Publications list (pdf)

Liv Haram is a social anthropologist trained at the University of Bergen. From 1989 to 1992 she worked as a researcher in a multi-disciplinary AIDS research and competence building programme in northern Tanzania. Based on research from the same area, her doctoral study examines gender relations in the context of rapid social change and a burgeoning AIDS crisis. Her principal research interests are problems of modernisation, gender-relations and sexuality. She has also done long-term field studies in Botswana.

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