Sitting and standing: how families are fixing trust in uncertain times

There is widespread apprehension about the resilience of the ‘traditional African’ model of the extended family in maintaining norms and practices of inter-group cooperation and care in conditions of demographic, social and economic change. In Nyanza Province, Kenya, where one of every five children is currently orphaned, and HIV/AIDS and wide-scale poverty continue to render lives and livelihoods insecure, many people are not able to take their families’ care for granted. Ideas and practices of kinship have been challenged profoundly by questions regarding who is responsible for the care of orphaned children. This article looks at two complementary practices among Luo families in western Kenya that address such dilemmas: the communal initiative of ‘sitting’ as a family to discuss and resolve issues in a cooperative and consensual manner; and the individualistic initiative of ‘standing’ to represent the interests of another individual. The author suggests that while the immediate purposes of sitting and standing are pragmatic in assigning caring responsibilities for specific children, their eventfulness also actualizes something greater: trust, reciprocity and solidarity among extended families. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]

Title: Sitting and standing: how families are fixing trust in uncertain times
Author: Cooper, Elizabeth
Year: 2012
Periodical: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (ISSN 0001-9720)
Volume: 82
Issue: 3
Pages: 437-456
Language: English
Geographic term: Kenya
External link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23240219
Abstract: There is widespread apprehension about the resilience of the ‘traditional African’ model of the extended family in maintaining norms and practices of inter-group cooperation and care in conditions of demographic, social and economic change. In Nyanza Province, Kenya, where one of every five children is currently orphaned, and HIV/AIDS and wide-scale poverty continue to render lives and livelihoods insecure, many people are not able to take their families’ care for granted. Ideas and practices of kinship have been challenged profoundly by questions regarding who is responsible for the care of orphaned children. This article looks at two complementary practices among Luo families in western Kenya that address such dilemmas: the communal initiative of ‘sitting’ as a family to discuss and resolve issues in a cooperative and consensual manner; and the individualistic initiative of ‘standing’ to represent the interests of another individual. The author suggests that while the immediate purposes of sitting and standing are pragmatic in assigning caring responsibilities for specific children, their eventfulness also actualizes something greater: trust, reciprocity and solidarity among extended families. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]