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"The problems of sickness follow me" : embodied structural violence and social suffering among singlemothers in post-socialist Tanzania Houmphan, Rachel


This thesis seeks to better understand the pervasiveness of suffering amongst poor single Tanzanian mothers in times of severe economic austerity following the implementation of IMF/World Bank neoliberal structural adjustment policies. These policies, which restructured the economy through liberalization, were implemented due to economic crises and external pressure from donors in the late 1980s and continue today. Based on six months of ethnographic research, I draw on participant observation of everyday life in Mbande, a village on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, oral life history interviews and focus group discussions with single mothers and the broader community. Focusing mainly on Tanzania’s postcolonial context, this thesis relies on the unique capacities of ethnography and oral life histories to show the impacts of radical economic restructuring, and its intersections with gender and other markers of social difference. The thesis examines how these have impacted the livelihoods and health of poor single mothers. While there is sufficient literature to suggest that many people in Tanzania live in conditions of severe poverty, little research that has been done to understand the ways in which suffering in people’s everyday lives is locally manifested as a result of economic, social and medical inequalities. Conditions of poverty and suffering are too often conveyed with a sense of timeless essence, often locating the “fate” and “doom” of Africa in discourses of backwards or unenlightened “African” cultural practices and various corrupt perpetrators. Departing from such an approach, and using a theoretical framework of structural violence and social suffering, I illustrate how the conditions of viscerally experienced suffering, especially by poor single mothers, are perpetuated by long term and systemic pathologies which “follow them” and in seemingly quotidian ways. By analyzing excerpts from two detailed oral life history interviews, I demonstrate the ways in which multiple factors align in harmful and unfavorable ways for single mothers in Mbande: I show how the suffering the people speak of in their lives is not the result of ill intention or will of any one person or governing body, but arises from a more everyday violence of systematic neglect and limits of care.

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Attribution 3.0 Unported