The research

Dr. Ruth Evans and Dr. Jane Ribbens McCarthy (The Open University) are leading an innovative research project, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, on ‘Death in the family in urban Senegal’ with Dr. Sophie Bowlby and Dr. Josephine Wouango (University of Reading), in collaboration with the Laboratoire de Recherches sur les Transformations Economiques et Sociales (LARTES-IFAN), Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar.

Background

The loss of a close adult relative is a significant life transition that almost everyone experiences at some point in the lifecourse. In the global South, the death of a spouse, parent, sibling or other relative may have a range of significant practical, financial and emotional impacts on people’s lives, resulting in mourning and grief, intergenerational transfers of wealth, changing caring responsibilities, changing livelihoods and decisions to migrate and increased poverty.

This research project will provide the first in-depth understanding of responses to death, care and family relations in urban Africa. The research will investigate the material and emotional significance of an adult death in families of different socio-economic status and ethnicities in the dynamic urban context of Senegal. It will make a highly original contribution to death and bereavement studies, which have been rooted in western, medicalised and individualised frameworks. Indeed, the notion of ‘bereavement’ itself will be interrogated for its theoretical assumptions and cultural relevance.

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Research aims and methods

This study will build on Dr. Evans’ pilot work on inheritance in Senegal and provide empirical evidence about the significance of a close family death on different family members in Dakar and Kaolack, two cities with diverse populations, in Senegal. Families will be selected to reflect a range of socio-economic backgrounds, enabling us to explore varying levels of vulnerability to poverty. Particular attention will be paid to young people’s experiences of a close family death. The research will investigate how continuing bonds with the deceased are expressed across different temporal and spatial contexts. It will analyse the ways that practices of care among the living and continuing bonds with the deceased are embedded in gendered and intergenerational relations and other social and place-based differences. The research will also identify the policy and practice implications in order to improve the social protection of bereaved family members in African cities.

A sample of 30 families that have experienced an adult relative’s death in the previous five years living in Dakar and Kaolack will be selected (15 in in each city) to reflect a range of socio-economic backgrounds. In-depth life history interviews will be conducted with family members and semi- structured interviews will be conducted with community leaders and professionals. The transcripts will be analysed thematically.

UK and Senegal Advisory Groups, comprised of policymakers, practitioners and researchers, have been established to guide the project.  The main period of fieldwork took place in Senegal from May – July 2014, with  participatory feedback workshops to discuss the findings with participants and key stakeholders in Senegal from November-December 2015. The final report, academic papers and policy brief are being disseminated in the UK, Senegal and internationally from 2016.

 

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