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Citation Information

Type Journal Article - Towards Interdisciplinarity
Title Demographic and anthropological perspectives on marriage and reproduction in Namibia
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
Page numbers 203-232
Despite the work of early anthropological and demographic pioneers
like Nancy HOWELL, Caroline BLEDSOE and Jack CALDWELL in the
1970s and 1980s, the more widespread sharing and exchange of
methods, models and theories of the two disciplines only dates back to
the 1990s. But scepticism on both sides has remained. Anthropologists
lament the often problematic use of culture and context in demographic
explanations while demographers perceive the empirical basis anthropologists
draw their conclusions from as limited.
The different anthropological and demographic perspectives are especially
pronounced in the analysis of marriage. For demographers, the
average age at marriage is one of the proximate determinants that influence
reproductive outcomes through structuring the risk for pregnancy.
Recently (2007), demographer John BONGAARTS has extended
this perspective. In his discussion on how the delay of marriage in
several African countries might increase the risk for an HIV infection,
the social institution of marriage becomes a determinant for mortality.
Contrary to the demographic treatment of marriage, the link between
marriage, reproduction and mortality in anthropological research is
more complex. Unlike demography’s treatment of marriage as an independent
variable explaining the dependent variable fertility and –
more recently – mortality, for anthropologists marriage (and non marriage)
itself has to be explained. Using ethnographic data on reproduction
and marriage of 329 households in Northwest Namibia and comparing
the results with macro level demographic data, the aim of my
paper is to demonstrate that only through the combination of demographic
and anthropological methods and theories is it possible to
understand the centrality of marriage and its absence in contemporary
Namibia and other Southern African countries.

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