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Reviewed by:
  • Child Care in a Globalizing World: perspectives from Ghana ed. by Christine Oppong, Delali M. Badasu, and Kari Wærness
  • Géraldine André
CHRISTINE OPPONG, DELALI M. BADASU and KARI WÆRNESS (eds), Child Care in a Globalizing World: perspectives from Ghana. Bergen: BRIC1 (pb €10 – 978 8 27453 084 3). 2012, 347 pp.

This book deals with an important issue, albeit one that remains under-analysed: the care of babies and children in Ghana at a time when market-driven economic changes have reduced the time available to parents, altered intergenerational and gender relationships, and jeopardized previous modes of caring for infants. The empirical case studies contained in this volume analyse this issue in Ghana; however, as the title of the book indicates, the different essays constitute a substantial basis for reconsidering wider societal changes that deeply affect the lives of women and the reproduction of transmitted knowledge vis-à-vis infants. Indeed, the difficulties that Ghanaian women face in caring for their children when, for example, they have little time due to work or are de facto single parents because the head of their household has migrated for employment reasons are not just the difficulties of women in that country. From Ghanaian villages to northern societies, women experience ‘conflicts between occupational and maternal roles [which] are a phenomenon resulting of processes of globalization’ (p. 69).

The book opens with an introduction and three chapters written by the editors, experts in the field of kinship, motherhood and childcare. These help to interpret the empirical case studies based in locations ranging from Ghanaian rural areas to the capital of the country, from village households to middle-class parents in Accra, all in the light of broader contexts and dimensions. [End Page 348]

The first central theme in the volume is developed by Kari Wærness, who paves the way for analysing the Ghanaian example by focusing on Western feminist discourses and especially Nordic examples. While the Nordic countries’ levels of development are among the highest in the world, Wærness shows how the processes of globalization, as they restructure traditional patterns of childcare, generate conflicts and tensions even in these societies. At this level, as an anthropologist I might be sceptical regarding the ways in which cultural practices are described in certain parts of the book. In some chapters, customs and traditions of childcare seem to have largely disappeared as they have been abruptly undermined by global economic processes. But as all changes take place within structures of longer duration, new tendencies, practices and forms of knowledge only emerge in relation to previous cultural forms that contribute to making new patterns possible. Nevertheless, Africanists, and especially anthropologists, cannot deny the recent and intense restructurings of kinship and parenthood in Ghana, as well as in other sub-Saharan African countries. These have had a dramatic impact on historically transmitted practices of childcare. At this analytical level, the majority of the texts in the volume describe clearly both the disappearance of former practices of care in the wake of global market pressures and the symbolic conflicts arising from this crisis.

Drawing on her experience in and knowledge of the field, Christine Oppong suggests an anthropological universal in the history of the reproduction of human societies, which she proposes as a second heading for the rest of the book: ‘caring is about relations between people’ and it involves ‘norms of balanced reciprocity’. This is a constant concern for the contributors to the volume, who aim to highlight the evolutions in the traditional pattern of cooperative reproduction, of child rearing and childcare, and of the kin networks of care associated with lineage ties. All the papers describe and analyse how these norms are being degraded by changing patterns in family systems, which are increasingly reduced to conjugal relationships or, because of fathers’ migratory trajectories, to single mothers.

The third theme that frames the case studies concerns human development standards as promoted by international institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organization, both of which shape national policies. This third strand is understood as a benchmark that evaluates, through empirical data, the adequacy of childcare in Ghana rather...


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