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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Changing Life Projects: African Identities, Moralities and Wellbeing

Project Summary

Dominant views suggest that neoliberal capitalism characterized by individualism, consumerism, and materialism is the precursor of moral decay in Africa. Against this background, the RS Moralities of the Moi University African Cluster Centre (MU ACC) of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence is currently exploring and analysing identities, moralities and moralities making in contemporary East Africa towards understanding how these are (re)defined, communicated, contested, (re)negotiated, re(invented) and practiced through rites of passage, such as initiation rites and marriages.

With dramatic changes resulting from mobilities of things, ideas, and people in social realities in the context of structural changes such as modernization, urbanization, internationalization), and globalization, emphasis on human agency has emerged as individuals seek to (re)define and (re) negotiate their individual identities and moralities. Yet, in East Africa, rites of passage remain dominant as social spaces and processes where gender, ethnicity, age, religion, social class and other variables intersect to constitute not just identities but also moral personhood.

While a lot of literature exists on traditional perspectives of personhood and of identities and moralities in East Africa, little is available on how human agency-centred identities and moralities are contested, negotiated, and (re)defined as individuals seek ‘good life’ and wellbeing. For lack of sufficient literature to guide a study that would generate robust data on identities, moralities, and notions of wellbeing in East Africa, especially agency-centred, we are conducting a preliminary study in western Kenya to answer the following questions guided by Critical Diversity Literacy, Gender intersectionality and Negotiated Morality theories:

1. What are the dominant notions of identities and moralities in western Kenya as constituted in two rites of passage, initiation from childhood to adulthood and marriage, both of which are understood and presented as socially accepted repertoires of morality and paths to good life? How are these notions transmitted, contested, redefined and negotiated?

2. What are the gendered notions of ‘good life’ and wellbeing in both rites of passage, how are these enacted, contested, and negotiated?

3. How do individual persons contest, (re)negotiate and (re)define identities and moralities to achieve good life and wellbeing in both rites of passage and are these contestations, negotiations and redefinitions gendered?

4. What gendered moralities are at stake in the contestations and negotiations of moralities in these rites of passage and how are they at stake?

The ongoing preliminary study will serve to generate agent-centred conceptualizations and hypotheses on identities, moralities and wellbeing that will lay ground for a broader and robust project ACC Research Proposal on identities and (im)moralities as well as on the complex power dynamics and relations in the process of moralities-making in contemporary East Africa. Our long-term objective is to better understand differences and similarities in the relational processes of making, shaping and changing of identities and moralities across different communities but also in relation to gender and intersectionality in urban and non-urban contexts across East Africa.

Ultimately, we will not only contribute to the study of relationality but also provide knowledge to contribute to and influence public debates on moralities and moralities-making in East Africa. Additionally, the preliminary study is engaging community opinion influencers, policy actors and NGO/CBO actors to provide their perspectives to the questions of the preliminary study and much more importantly, towards their full engagement in the consequent full study for purposes of transfer and use of research in policy making and for community research uptake. This is necessary for translation of eventual research findings into practical development.


1st September 2020 – 31th August 2021 (12 months)

Webmaster: Dr. Doris Löhr

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