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  • Marriage by Force? Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa eds. by Annie Bunting, Benjamin N Lawrance, and Richard L Roberts
  • Lucinda Vandervort (bio)
Annie Bunting, Benjamin N Lawrance, and Richard L Roberts, eds, foreword by Doris Buss, afterword by Emily S Burrill, Marriage by Force? Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa ( Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2016).

This edited collection will be welcomed by African scholars for the detailed examination and analysis it contains of the historical roots of contemporary African marriage laws and social and cultural attitudes and practices.1 The collection also brings useful interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on what are sometimes relatively uninformed and fraught discussions by Westerners of traditional and contemporary conjugal and matrimonial relationships in Africa. The volume is the product of the efforts of a network of scholars who undertook a shared and collaborative examination of the intersection of ''slavery,'' ''forced marriage,'' ''arranged marriage,'' and related social arrangements on the African continent during the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial eras. Many of the studies were presented at a symposium held at the third Conable Conference in International Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Funders for the symposium and the edited volume included a diverse group of academic institutions, institutes, and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The foreword by Doris Buss, the editors' introduction, and the afterword by Emily S. Burrill present the rationale behind the collaborative approach taken by the project and highlight the relationships among the subjects of the studies contained in the volume. A core insight of the collaboration is that, in the contemporary era, discussions of international law and policy continue to be dominated by Western concepts and consciousness. Insofar as the operant concepts and consciousness are not adequately grounded and nuanced to reflect non-Western local history and social-cultural-economic experience, the resulting law and policy will, to the same extent, be ill-suited as an effective tool to support either Western or local human rights objectives in Africa. Western concepts and categories, including the concepts [End Page 431] of consent and coercion, and the language of human rights, are widely adopted in Africa for use in official documents, agreements, and legislation, but experienced human reality is inevitably more complex and multi-layered than abstract terms can ever record and express.

Close study of this volume may lead some Westerners to re-examine the nature and role of consent and coercion in their own gendered lives, yet again, and, if they do not already, to see and understand the human relationships and attitudes that shape their own lives as the highly contingent historical product of a complex set of constantly shifting cultural and socio-economic factors. Bilateral translation—local to national, regional, continental, and international—and bilateral application both require lenses that can capture the functional relationships between legal status, custom, and cultural practice, economic capacity and resources, social and cultural multi-dimensional expectations and relationships, individual and group agency and dependency, and race, ethnicity, age, and gender. The studies in this volume offer detailed examinations of many aspects of those relationships, both past and present, in the contexts of a variety of African jurisdictions. Scholarly audiences, students of public policy and international human rights, and members of the general public who seek fuller appreciation of contemporary African society and cultural attitudes and practices, will all find this volume extremely useful.

The studies are organized in three parts dealing with the colonial period, the period of post-colonial independence, and the contemporary period. In the first of the four chapters in Part 1, Richard L. Roberts describes the role of ''constrained consent'' in marriages in colonial French West Africa between 1905 and 1960 and examines the connections between consent in marriage, patriarchal regimes, property rights in people, and the need to mobilize domestic labor. Slavery and marriage policies led to conflict whenever local sovereignty over customary arrangements, which secured the economic and labour requirements of families and kinship groups through arranged marriages and the exchange of ''bride-wealth,'' were seen to contravene French colonial administrative concepts of what was ''civilized.''2 Olatunji Ojo examines forced...


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