Transfers of Belonging

Child Fostering in West Africa in the 20th Century


In Transfers of Belonging, Erdmute Alber traces the history of child fostering in northern Benin from the pre-colonial past to the present by pointing out the embeddedness of child foster practices and norms in a wider political process of change. Child fostering was, for a long time, not just one way of raising children, but seen as the appropriate way of doing so. This changed profoundly with the arrival of European ideas about birth parents being the ‘right’ parents, but also with the introduction of schooling and the differentiation of life chances. Besides providing deep historical and ethnographical insights, Transfers of Belonging offers a new theoretical frame for conceptualizing parenting.
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Biographical Note

Erdmute Alber (Ph.D. 1997) is chair of Social Anthropology at Bayreuth University (Germany). She has undertaken long-term field research in West Africa, especially in northern Benin. She has directed several research projects on kinship, generational relations and child fostering in West Africa and published widely in the field of political anthropology, childhood, kinship, intergenerational relations and care.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements List of Figures List of Abbreviations Glossary Introduction  Baatombu Peasants   National and Regional EmbeddednessSocial RelationsKinship Terminology  Fieldwork and Methods   Field ResearchThick ParticipationChildhood StudiesNorm, Practice, Emotion 1 Theoretical Approaches and Concepts on Child Fostering  A Structural-functionalist Perspective: Parenthood and Social ReproductionBearing and Begetting: Birth ParenthoodStatus Entitlement: Legal ParenthoodNurturance, Training and Sponsorship: Social ParenthoodDelegation of Parenthood: Types, Reasons and FunctionsDiscussion  A Structuralist Perspective: The Circulation of Children  Discussion  Other Perspectives   The Turn to the ActorTransfers of Imagined Belonging 2 Parenthood in Rural Borgu  Birth Parenthood   An Open SecretBirthGiving Birth in the Health CentreRites of TransitionEveryday PracticesAcquiring KnowledgeYearningHappy Foster ChildrenConceptions of ParenthoodMotherhoodFatherhood  Child Fostering   DecisionsTransferring a ChildPossible Foster ParentsSame SexKinshipHierarchyOrder of Siblings  Reasons for Child Fostering   Kinship CohesionPreventing Regressive Behaviour in ChildrenSocial Parenthood Supports the HierarchiesChildren as WorkersChildlessnessCrisis FosteringWomen’s Interests  Child Fostering, Gender and Marriage   Exchanging Children and Women  Conflicts   Avoidance and Indirect CommunicationOpen ConflictsSelf-relianceFoster ParentsRunning Away  Arguments against Child Fostering   Kinship ConflictsSchooling  A Bad Investment 3 Child Fostering in the Twentieth Century  Precolonial Times   Everyday RealitiesViolence and GiftsOedipus in Africa?  Colonial Changes   End of the RaidsNew ConceptionsSero Toro Tuunku and his Foster SonNew Life CoursesChristian MissionsThe Introduction of SchoolsState Policy  The Post-colonial Period   Urban Baatombu HouseholdsExpansion of Educational Facilities  Between Town and Village: A Conflict  Child Fostering in Urban Areas: Cotonou and Parakou   Urban HouseholdsMobility and EducationHousehold CompositionFostering and EducationBelongingWell-beingExploitation?Generations  Child Fostering in the Villages of Tɛbɔ, Kika and Yarɔ   Frequency of Child FosteringBirth Rate and Child MortalityGenderSchooling and FosteringFamily Relationship between Children and their Foster Parents  On the threshold of the 21st Century: Two Conflicts   RafaDjamila  Conclusion Appendix  Names and Interviews   Interviews Cited References Index


Besides anthropologists working on West Africa, this book should be read by all interested in kinship, childhood, child development and the history of Africa.