Kathleen Rice

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

McGill U.

Grant number

Gr. 9686

Approve Date

October 4, 2018

Project Title

Rice, Dr. Kathleen F., McGill U., Montreal, Canada - To aid research and writing on 'Rights and Responsibilities: Gender, Personhood, and the Crisis of Meaning in Rural South Africa' - Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Preliminary abstract: My current writing project is a book project. Its central argument is as follows: In South Africa today, rights-based public discourse and state practices promote autonomous, liberal notions of the person. However, acute poverty in the rural Eastern Cape combined with HIV-related care needs mean that people are increasingly reliant on one another, albeit often in configurations that are disruptive of the gendered and generational hierarchies that are mobilized as traditional. Relationships are thus being reconfigured in ways that challenge entrenched hierarchies while leaving both aspirations and interpersonal obligations of care — which people term ‘responsibilities’ — often unfulfilled. People are compelled to adopt autonomous forms of personhood even as they must rely on one another more than ever. Through a discussion of human rights, bride abduction, gender violence, and negotiations over changing trajectories of female life-course, I demonstrate what is at stake for people as they debate the merit of longstanding and emergent values and cultural forms. In so doing, it becomes clear that the rural Eastern Cape today is a place where singular moral frames are particularly unworkable. I thus argue that in this precarious and uncertain environment, people encounter and deploy multiple incommensurate moral frames as a survival strategy, placing relationships under strain while rendering moral action ambiguous and situational. In so doing, I reframe recent analyses of South African society to argue that the concurrent so-called crises of youth, masculinity, social reproduction are ultimately crises meaning about self and community, sustained and produced though the messy intimacy of rural domestic life. Of broad relevant to contemporary theorization of social change, I show that this is productive of new social forms that may ultimately be suited to contemporary challenges.