British society is not paying enough attention to how a death may risk pushing families into poverty and could learn valuable lessons from West Africa, according to a new report. Researchers from the University of Reading and the Open University say Britain could actually learn much from the example of less affluent countries in Africa, such as Senegal. Dr. Ruth Evans’ and colleagues’ research explored people’s experiences of a family death, and analysed levels of financial, emotional and practical support offered to bereaved families in urban Senegal. The study, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, provides the first in-depth understanding of responses to death, care and family relations in an urban West African context.
Ruth discussed the research in policy workshops in Dakar and Kaolack last week and the findings were widely reported in the Senegalese press. The research project found that Senegalese responses to death show how close-knit urban communities support each other, in the absence of support from government or non-governmental organisations.The crucial importance of informal support from the family and community following a death suggests the need for government and NGO services to adopt a ‘whole family approach’, which recognises the reciprocal roles of different family members. This could help to link up and enhance both formal and informal support systems in urban Senegal.
Representatives of the Ministry of Women, Family and Childhood speaking at the Opening Ceremony of the Dakar policy workshop, 7th December 2015
Ruth presenting the findings at the Kaolack policy seminar, 4th December 2015
Nous avons le plaisir de présenter le Résumé de notre projet de recherche sur : ‘Décès dans la famille en milieu urbain sénégalais: deuil, prise en charge et relations familiales’, financé par le Leverhulme Trust. Les résultats seront présentés et discutés avec les intervenants lors des séminaires de diffusion à Kaolack et à Dakar et le rapport final sera publié en février 2016.
Ruth and Fatou are currently doing feedback and dissemination workshops with young people and adults in Dakar and Kaolack. The workshops have been very useful in understanding more about the cultural significance of key phrases like ‘C’est dur’ and feeling ‘alone’ often used by participants when they talked about the emotional aspects of their relative’s death. Ranking exercises have also highlighted key policy and practice priorities which will be discussed further with government, NGO representatives and religious and local leaders in seminars in Dakar and Kaolack.
Ruth recently presented a paper based on our findings entitled, Young people’s responses to the death of a relative: a vital conjuncture that complicates pathways out of ‘waithood’? at a panel session on ‘Pathways out of waithood: engaging with a repertoire of strategies’, convened by Jørgen Carling (Peace Research Institute Oslo) at the European Conference of African Studies in Paris. It was great to discuss our findings with other researchers working on youth in diverse contexts in Africa (see here for more details). Fatou also joined Ruth, Sophie and Jane in Paris for discussions about our analyses and also presented a well received paper on street children in Senegal at the conference.
Ruth recently presented a paper, ‘”Your tears are like pouring hot water on the body”: exploring religious and cultural influences on responses to death in urban Senegal’ in the Geographies of Faith, Spirituality and Religion session (organised by Claire Dwyer, Ruth Judge and Elizabeth Olsen) at the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies. The paper focused on tears and the expression of emotions in responses to death in the family in urban Senegal, based on our preliminary findings. We also sought to interrogate our cultural assumptions about religious and cultural norms surrounding mourning and the expression of grief. We found it helpful to analyse our findings through the framings of emotional geographies and geographies of religion and received thoughtful questions and comments from colleagues.
Jane recently presented a paper, ‘Death and its futures beyond the global North: exploring responses to family deaths in urban Senegal’ at the Centre for Death and Society Conference. The paper drew on our preliminary analyses of the data and discussed how responses to death are embedded in cultural understandings of family relationships. It was great to share our findings with death and bereavement studies scholars and practitioners and receive helpful comments and feedback.
We are continuing with our analyses of the interview transcripts, writing summaries of each family and coding the transcripts with Nvivo. Our recent UK Advisory Group discussions were very valuable in helping us identify how our research can best contribute to current debates in death studies, youth in the global South, emotional geographies and geographies of religion. We’ll be developing conference papers on these themes in the coming weeks!
Ruth recently wrote about her experiences of fieldwork for the SAGES Advice blog: Fieldwork, Gender and Careers: ‘In my experience, fieldwork is one of the most rewarding parts of the research process. My qualitative fieldwork with young people and families in Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and Ghana as well as in the UK has enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of the dynamics and diversity of family life and the importance of reciprocity in caring relations and community support networks. I feel privileged to have been able to listen to people’s life stories, even if only for the duration of an in-depth interview….’
We are continuing with our analysis of the data, as we receive the transcripts. We recently presented a paper: ‘Caringscapes in Urban Senegal: gendered and inter-generational practices of care after the death of a relative’, at the Family Geographies, Care and Relationalitysessions that Ruth Evans, Sophie Bowlby and Sally Lloyd-Evans convened at the 4th International Conference of Geographies of Children, Youth and Families, San Diego, USA, 12-15 January 2015. It was good to receive questions and feedback about our initial analyses of the transcripts from the first district in Kaolack.