21st COE Program Seminar
Public Seminar on African Area Studies

Date: Tuesday, May 11, 2004 15:00 - 17:00

Venue: Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University
Common Building, No.307 (46 Yoshida Shimoadachi-cho, Sakyo, Kyoto 606-8501, JAPAN)

"Fatherhood and the Construction of the Masculine Self among the Urban Gikuyu of Kenya"

By Nici Nelson, Anthropology Department, Goldsmiths' College, University of London

        In this paper I draw on the narratives of fatherhood taken from a sample 50 Gikuyu men living in Nairobi in 1998-1999. The sample included professional men, small business men and clerks, and informal sector traders. They were all urban-based, detached from agriculture as a mode of production, had some formal schooling, were Christian and committed to a ‘modern’-style monogamy. They were all interested in reconfiguring their practice of fatherhood in order to become what they frequently referred to as ‘a modern parent.’
        The paper historically situates the evolving styles of Gikuyu parenting, (emphasising fatherhood), and their impacts on ‘modern’ Gikuyu ideas of selfhood and masculine identity. To do this, I discuss Kenyan Gikuyu experiences of pre-colonialism, colonialism, changing patterns of production, the introduction of Christianity, modern education and global ‘expert’ views on fatherhood and parenting as disseminated in media.
        In examining the impact of new ideas of fatherhood, I develop various themes. Gikuyu notions of parenting are increasingly biologically and not sociologically engendered. Urban Gikuyu fathering is for some becoming an important ‘practice of self’ critical in creating a man’s unique identity, which now may even supersede his social identity. Fathering in this mode is also becoming a marker of ‘modernity’ and has become one of the ‘ regimes of the person’ by which individuals plan their everyday lives to maximize their potential as worthy persons. In this modern regime of the person children become planning objects and men are opting into a wider and more feminised version of masculinity.

Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University
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