Mothering solidarity: infant-feeding, vulnerability and poverty in West Africa since the seventeenth century

Whyte, C. (2020) Mothering solidarity: infant-feeding, vulnerability and poverty in West Africa since the seventeenth century. Past and Present, 246(S15), pp. 54-91. (doi: 10.1093/pastj/gtaa037)

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Poor and marginalized people have always distributed the labour of mothering, among their extended kin networks, with friends and neighbours and within their communities. This essay argues that taking a long historical view on the distribution of infant-feeding as labour serves as a useful corrective to modern western or imperial models which reify exclusive breastfeeding in the mother–baby dyad, and opens up questions about how the work of feeding babies has played a role in generating and sustaining rigid gender binaries. The article excavates traces of information about the feeding practices of people in West Africa who are members of gender-segregated solidarity societies, from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. These institutions regulate much of economic and social life in the region, which incorporates parts of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, reflecting the endurance of institutions of social reproduction through widespread political change. Practices of infant-feeding show similar endurance, shaped more by economic necessity than political pressure. The article focuses on the experiences of West African men and women, along with the babies they feed with milk of all kinds, rice, palm oil and water. This mothering labour is part of a wider knowledge of the body which has been passed down among Africans and the African diaspora, and with which historians of labour, the body and emotions could usefully engage.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Whyte, Dr Christine
Authors: Whyte, C.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Past and Present
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN (Online):1477-464X
Published Online:06 January 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © The Past and Present Society, Oxford, 2021
First Published:First published in Past and Present 246(S15):54-91
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
302456Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship - Dr Christine WhyteChristine WhyteLeverhulme Trust (LEVERHUL)ECF-2014-604Arts - History