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Age Problems and Girls with Jobs: Gendered Temporalities of Life Course in Xhosaland

A young girl washes the hair of a baby
Wednesday, October 03, 2018
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Kathleen Rice, University of Toronto

In South Africa, economic liberalization and the industrialization of extractive industries have altered normative life trajectories for most rural Xhosa. While few young men can now obtain jobs as labor migrants, some young women are finding employment opportunities in rural villages. Moreover, longstanding social forms are challenged by the ascendancy of egalitarian public discourses and legislative practices that promote less hierarchical forms of gendered personhood. Focusing on young working women and local controversies about old age pensions, I show that as economic and political transformations enable and foreclose particular kinds of social maturation, what it means to be a moral person of a particular age and gender becomes unclear through increasingly apparent ambiguities in temporalities of ageing -what local women refer to as "age problems," - and as provider status and dependency become decoupled from gender. South Africa's so-called crises of gender and social reproduction entail a crisis of meaning about normative ideas of age, gender, status, and ultimately, worthy life.