Contingent LivesFertility, Time, and Aging in West Africa

Contingent LivesFertility, Time, and Aging in West Africa

Caroline H. Bledsoe

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226058511

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Most women in the West use contraceptives in order to avoid having children. But in rural Gambia and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, many women use contraceptives for the opposite reason—to have as many children as possible. Using ethnographic and demographic data from a three-year study in rural Gambia, this book explains this seemingly counterintuitive fact by juxtaposing two very different understandings of the life course: one is a linear, Western model that equates aging and the ability to reproduce with the passage of time, the other a Gambian model that views aging as contingent on the cumulative physical, social, and spiritual hardships of personal history, especially obstetric trauma. Viewing each of these two models from the perspective of the other, the book produces fresh understandings of the classical anthropological subjects of reproduction, time, and aging as culturally shaped within women's conjugal lives.