STREAM: Navigating and Negotiating Marriage

STREAM: Navigating and Negotiating Marriage

Convened by: Benjamin Lawrance ( University of Arizona), Kate Skinner (University of Birmingham)

This stream focuses on the ways in which people have negotiated, or failed to negotiate, particular routes into marriage, the terms on which their marriage(s) work(s), and the dissolution or reconfiguration of obligations and entitlements when marriages become undone. We ask how negotiating positions have been, and continue to be, shaped by the range of resources (moral and material) that partners/parties can bring to bear. And we share with gender activists a concern with the ways in which outcomes of negotiations reflect partners’/parties’ abilities to shift between registers and forums of negotiation (intra-marital, intra/inter-familial, customary and civil courts, and alternative forms of arbitration).

Many of these issues are common to the study of marriage around the world, and are evident in different ways across long periods of time. The purpose of the stream is not to exceptionalise or exoticise marriage in Africa. The religious and cultural diversity of the continent, and the particular forms of state-society relations that emerge from colonial encounters and their aftermaths, have generated rich and detailed studies of marriage, estrangement and divorce in specific African and African-diasporan contexts. This stream provides an opportunity to put these case studies into dialogue and to identify cross-cutting themes for further analysis.

Papers may be historical, ethnographic, legal or theoretical in nature, and could address some of the following sub-themes:


  1. Courtship and Contracts: how do marriages get made? How do partners/parties understand or predict the temporal frame of a marital relationship, and the forms of investment required?


  1. Marriage in the Balance: what scope is there for individual agency in navigating between different registers and channels of intra-marital negotiation? Do inter-religious marriages have particular dynamics? How does migration and the experience of being ‘elsewhere’ impact upon intra-marital and intra/inter-familial negotiation?


  1. Untying the Knot(s): how does the choice or imposition of a particular forum impact upon the dissolution of marital entitlements and obligations? Have state interventions either aimed to, or succeeded in, shifting the negotiating terrain? To what extent, and in what ways, have new forums of arbitration and rights-based approaches to child welfare reconfigured the negotiating terrain?


  1. Gender Activism, Citizenship, and the Reform of Family Law: what patterns and directions can be identified in the reform of family law in Africa? How do gender activists in African countries engage with those elsewhere around the world in their discussions about, and campaigns for, the reform of family law?

Queries should be directed to 

Confirmed panels.


Panel 1: The making, re-making and un-making of marriage in Ghana

Chair and discussant: Kate Skinner

  • Isaac Dery, ‘ “Mobile phone marriages”: contesting the “gatekeeping” authority and agency of parents in the making of marriages in 21st century Ghana’
  • Rosemary Obeng-Hinneh, ‘Transitioning from a marriage-like union to marriage: accounts from couples in consensual unions in Accra’
  • Jovia Salifu, ‘Resolving marital disputes at Aban in Ghana’
  • Charles Prempeh, ‘Secularism and Interfaith marriages in Zongo communities in Accra, Ghana’
  • Rachel Spronk, ‘‘Infidelity: when marriage matters’

Panel 2: Negotiating marriage: the terms of the debates

Chair and discussant: Benjamin Lawrance

  • Amy Redgrave, ‘ “Prostitution”, the Press and Politics in Colonial Lagos: cultural nationalism and the marriage debate, 1890-1915’
  • Signe Arnfred, ‘Marriage and Matriliny in Africa’
  • Leslie Hadfield, ‘Negotiating Marriage and Family Relations: black nurses in South Africa, 1960s-1980s’
  • Anthonia Yakubu ‘Until Death Do Us Part’: marriage during in the Nigerian civil war, in ‘Roses and Bullets’ and ‘The Last Duty’





For panel and paper submissions please follow the instructions on the website 

Please note that a separate stream on forced marriage and sexual slavery in conflict situations will be convened by Benedetta Rossi and Joel Quirk.

Photo Courtesy: Kate Skinner


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