Doing Natality: Making babies, making kin

This project investigates whether the concept of ‘natality’ (Arendt 1958) can help find a new and better way of understanding reproduction in Africa.

The project starts from the assumption that reproduction is the result of multiple entanglements of meanings, institutions, practices, and technologies aimed at preserving and nurturing individual and collective life. The focus on “doing natality” allows us to explore the ways in which biological and social reproduction are connected to caring for the future. We hypothesize that the concept of ‘natality’ will enable a novel perspective to the study of reproduction. Natality positions the private act of having babies and raising children in the realm of the political in a different way than the dominant Foucauldian approach. While the latter emphasizes a link between subjugation and subject formation, the former emphasizes a link between love, care, and emancipation as the capacity to begin something new. Our project probes whether this framing has the potential to generate new insights into reproduction and socialization on the African continent.

In this project, natality is employed in relation to two main foci:

  1. The social study of reproductive technologies. The focus here is on people’s attempts to shape their biology through vernacular and biomedical interventions. The vast regional differences and inequalities in access to relevant medical infrastructures are of particular interest.
  2. The exploration of the socialization of children. The focus here is on care for new-borns and children, their kinning and their preparation for becoming citizens – that is political subjects with the capacity to imagine new, different and better collective futures. Socio-economic class is a factor in access to housing, healthy diets, and medical care, all of which shape the possibilities of both women’s and men’s reproductive bodies and the future health of their infants. Therefore, the huge inequalities that underpin raising children in Africa are foregrounded.

There are two main activities linked to the project. The first is to develop a network of scholars who will work towards interrogating the concept of natality as productive in African contexts. The second is to support and nurture a cohort of researchers in Africa who can take the research agenda that will emerge forward as they develop their careers. Focusing specifically on Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa and Uganda, the empirical work will examine country-specific and regional variations, and probe the usefulness of the concept of natality as well as the variations of “doing natality”.