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Claims to orphanhood: an ethnographic investigation of childhood adversity in post-genocide Rwanda

Løndorf, Maja Haals (2017) Claims to orphanhood: an ethnographic investigation of childhood adversity in post-genocide Rwanda. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.ooy2n7gzp4b8


Based on 16 consecutive months of fieldwork with children, their families and communities, this thesis explores the lives, experiences and perspectives of children, young people and their families who live in northwestern Rwanda and have experienced many hardships. In the context of war, genocide, migration and flight, it examines children and young people’s experiences of, as well as the social dynamics pertaining to, parental death or absence. The analysis addresses a key underlying question that remains little examined: how does a dominant global development category, such as that of orphan, become meaningful in the daily lives, subjectivities and identities of children and young people who become associated with such a category when it meets locally available identity and status constructions? What emerges is a messy, complex cultural reality that often seems contradictory in nature. Orphanhood appears simultaneously as a desirable status and a stigmatised and embodied identity; as a means to much-needed social and material resources, such as patrons or inclusion in NGO projects, or as an existential reality. The central argument is that children, young people and their families make diverse and sometimes contradictory claims to orphanhood for a variety of moral, political, social, economic and existential reasons, the primary aim of which is to achieve a more dignified life. Orphanhood is a condition of inherent existential insecurity that children want to overcome. In order to do so they sometimes first have to officially cast themselves as orphans. They have to become orphans to unbecome orphans. But whether they are successful in doing so depends on one key factor that is only sometimes visible to children themselves: post-genocide political-ethnic categories heavily influence children’s experiences of orphanhood by determining their access to charitable and communal support. These in turn are affected by the particular topography of remembering and forgetting that shapes post-genocide Rwanda.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Maja Haals Løndorf
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Engelke, Matthew and Astuti, Rita

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