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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Reconceptualising temporality in young lives: exploring young people's current and future livelihoods in AIDS-affected southern Africa

Ansell, Nicola; Hajdu, Flora; van Blerk, Lorraine; Robson, Elsbeth


In recent years, anxieties have been expressed that the impacts of southern Africa's AIDS pandemic on young people today will damage their future livelihood prospects. Geographers have been remarkably reluctant to explore young people's future livelihoods, inspired by a concern to view young people as human beings, worthy of study in their own right rather than mere human becomings, of interest only as 'adults in the making'. Yet there is growing acknowledgement that young people, like older people, are always both 'being and becoming'. The connections between current and future lives merit much greater attention, both because experiences and actions in childhood and youth undoubtedly shape the futures of individuals and wider society, but also because young people's thoughts and actions are so often geared to the future, and this future orientation shapes their present worlds. This paper reports on research that set out to explore links between the impacts of AIDS and young people's livelihood prospects. Intensive case study research was undertaken, combining participatory methods and life history interviews with young people aged 10-24 in two villages, one in southern Malawi and the other in the mountains of Lesotho. By theorising a temporal dimension to de Haan and Zoomers' concept of livelihood trajectories, the paper focuses on the ways in which young people respond to both the immediate sustenance requirements of themselves and their households and their need to accrue assets for future livelihoods. Some young people's trajectories appear to be disturbed by the influence of AIDS, but with no systematic patterns. Beyond addressing empirical questions concerning the impacts of AIDS, the paper contributes to our understanding of how livelihoods are produced and to the conceptualisation of youth transitions as produced through the iteration of present and future.


young people; livelihoods; temporalities; AIDS; Lesotho; Malawi

Published in

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
2014, Volume: 39, number: 3, pages: 387-401

    SLU Authors

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG3 Good health and well-being

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Human Geography

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