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What is childcare really about?
An ethnographic analysis of care relationships in a resource-poor community1

CSSR Working Paper No. 139

Rachel Bray and RenР№ Brandt

Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR)

December 2005

SARPN acknowledges the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR) as the source of this document:
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The main aim of this paper is to examine critically the nature of childcare, including ideals and practices, in a resource-poor community through close ethnographic analysis of three sets of data generated over the course of two years. We argue that childcare in Masiphumelele should be conceptualised as having an emotional component that operates in parallel with, and is as important as, material provision and practical action. Further, the analysis reveals the extent to which childcare is shaped by poverty and must be thought about in relation to broader physical and social mobility, and the continuities within such movement. We also show that HIV can further shape childcare by challenging existing cultural practices, such as those pertaining to communication between children and adults regarding death. Future work on childcare would benefit from the conceptual approach adopted across this work, one which views children and their carers in a series of interrelated and dynamic contexts that include both kin and non-kin, and extend from the household to the broader family and friendship networks which support these multiple individuals.

  1. We would like to acknowledge and thank our colleagues who contributed to the research on which this paper draws, in particular Lindiwe Mthembu-Salter, Andy Dawes and Nomatamsanqa Fani.

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