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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

"My happiest time" or "my saddest time"? The spatial and generational construction of marriage among youth in rural Malawi and Lesotho

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


Marriage among African teenagers is currently a central focus of campaigns by UN agencies and international NGOs. Yet marriage has received only limited attention from geographers and has largely escaped the attention of geographers of youth. In this paper we explore the relational geographies of age that underlie young people's motivations for, and experiences of, marriage in two rural African settings with differing marriage practices: matrilocal southern Malawi and patrilocal Lesotho. We draw on participatory research activities and life history interviews conducted with 80 people aged between 10 and 24 years old. While the young people's attitudes and experiences were varied and complex, starkly different accounts emerged from the two settings. In particular, young women in Lesotho offered very negative assessments of marriage, while those in Malawi were very much more positive. Through these examples, we highlight how young people's marriage choices and experiences are relationally produced. Decisions about whether, when and whom to marry reflect socially entrenched expectations concerning generational allocations of resources, labour and responsibilities, which intersect with contemporary social and economic processes including poverty, unemployment, land scarcity and AIDS. Experiences of marriage, too, are produced through practices that are spatially structured and contextually situated in relation to socio-economic conditions. Thus marriage, as a vital conjuncture in young people's lives, plays a key role in the relational construction of individual lifecourses and in (re)constructing relationships of age, gender and, especially, generation.


generation; lifecourse; marriage; relationality; southern Africa; vital conjuncture

Published in

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
2018, volume: 43, number: 2, pages: 184-199

Authors' information

Ansell, Nicola
Brunel University London
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
van Blerk, Lorraine
University of Dundee
Robson, Elsbeth
University of Hull

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG5 Gender equality

UKÄ Subject classification

Human Geography

Publication Identifiers


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