March 3 Jessica Johnson

Thursday March 03 (5pm Seminar Room)

Love, Marriage and Matriliny

Dr Jessica Johnson


Marriage constitutes contested terrain in rural Malawi. This contestation manifests itself in a variety of ways: in everyday interactions between husbands and wives as they negotiate their respective roles; in public debates about the age of consent for marriage or the validity of homosexual relationships; in the aspirations of adults on behalf of young people as expressed in initiation ceremonies, and so on. Over time, historical shifts in the availability of employment, land and other resources have altered the relative importance of predominantly male and female contributions to household reproduction, intersecting with personal biographies to affect the extent to which marriage appears attractive, possible or necessary to men and women at particular junctures. This paper focuses on the institution of marriage in the early twenty-first century, pointing to the nexus of love, marriage and political economy, and incorporating a view of historical change at regional, national and life-historical levels. I draw upon ethnographic and statistical evidence to demonstrate the ongoing centrality of marriage to the lives of men and women in this part of Africa (unlike elsewhere in the region), showing that marriage is both an important and dynamic institution and a fulcrum of contestation.