African Encounters with Domesticity

By Karen Tranberg Hansen | Go to book overview

Preface

This book examines how ideologies of domesticity have been constructed and transformed in the meeting between a variety of African notions of domesticity and European selective interpretations of Western domestic forms. The essays collected here depart from existing scholarship on the division of labor and gender ideology in African studies by questioning the unexplored status of domesticity. The contributors investigate how actors, activities, and boundaries of domesticity have been defined and changed in encounters between Africans and others, and how race, gender, and class are involved in these processes. Representing several disciplines and different theoretical orientations, the book demonstrates the important role ideologies of domesticity have played in the cultural ordering of African history by shaping notions of labor and time, architecture and space, consumption and accumulation, body and clothing, and sexuality and gender. By using domesticity as a focus of research the contributors cast unprecedented light both on the changing relationship between work, space, and gender, and on broader politico-economic processes in different parts of twentieth-century Africa.

Many people, graduate students and colleagues alike, have influenced our thinking about the research potential entailed in ideologies of domesticity in Africa, and helped to tease out constructively their complex meanings from seemingly trivial activities. Among them are Margaret Strobel, whose historical insights into gender and imperialism have enriched this particular project, and Jane Guyer, whose reminders about the material underpinnings of ideological expressions have helped to ground it. But above all, I would like to thank the contributing authors for delivering thought- provoking chapters and for doing so while being temporarily or permanently scattered across much of the world encompassed by this book: LaRay Denzer in Nigeria; Nancy Hunt in Zaire and Belgium; Elizabeth Schmidt in Guinea; Janet Bujra in Britain; Nakanyike Musisi in Canada; as well as the authors in the United States. I am particularly grateful to Jean Comaroff for stimulating the thoughts that led to this effort and for her persistent encouragement in its development. Mette Shayne of the Africana Library at Northwestern University offered prompt and helpful bibliographical assistance, and Andrea Dubnick of the Department of Anthropology

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