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Contingent Lives

Fertility, Time, and Aging in West Africa

With contributions by Fatouneatta Banja

Contingent Lives

Fertility, Time, and Aging in West Africa

With contributions by Fatouneatta Banja
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, Contingent Lives 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, Caroline Bledsoe produces fresh understandings of the classical anthropological subjects of reproduction, time, and aging as culturally shaped within women’s conjugal lives. Her insights will be welcomed by scholars of anthropology and demography as well as by those working in public health, development studies, gerontology, and the history of medicine.

Table of Contents

Anthony T. Carter
1. Introduction
2. Reproductive Tolls and Temporalities in Studies of Reproduction
3. Setting, Data, and Methods
4. Managing the Birth Interval: Child Spacing
5. Disjunctures and Anomalies: Deconstructing Child Spacing
6. Realizing a Reproductive Endowment in a Contingent Body
7. Time-Neutral Reproduction, Time-Neutral Aging
8. Reaping the Rewards of Reproduction: Morality, Retirement, and Repletion
9. Discovering Our Habitus: Contingency and Linearity in Western Obstetric Observations
10. Rethinking Fertility, Time, and Aging


Royal Anthropological Institute: Amaury Talbot Prize

Society for Medical Anthropology: Eileen Basker Memorial Prize

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