Mobility, surveillance and control of children and young people in the everyday: perspectives from sub-Saharan Africa

Gina Porter, Kate Hampshire, Alister Munthali, Elsbeth Robson

Abstract


Surveillance of children and young people in non-Western contexts has received little attention in the literature.   In this paper we draw principally on our research in one African country, Malawi, to examine the ways in which their independent travel is shaped by  (usually adult-directed) surveillance and control in diverse urban and rural contexts.   Surveillance is interpreted very broadly, because our empirical data indicates a range of practices whereby a close watch is kept over children as they move around their community and travel out to other locations.  In some cases we suggest that surveillance of children and young people becomes internalized self-surveillance, such that no external social control is required to police their movements.

Our evidence, from eight research sites, brings together a wide range of source material, including findings from intensive qualitative research with children and adults (in-depth interviews, accompanied walks, focus groups, life histories) and a follow-up questionnaire survey administered to children aged 7 - 18 years [N=1,003].  Although many of the children in our study attend school,  local economic circumstances in both urban and rural areas of  Malawi commonly require children’s participation from an early age in a much broader range of productive and reproductive work activities than is usual in Western contexts, with corresponding impact on daily patterns of movement.  Children may have to travel substantial distances for school, in support of family livelihoods, and for other purposes (including social events): the necessity for independent travel is common, and frequently raises concerns among parents and other adults in their communities such that surveillance is considered essential.  This is achieved principally by encouraging travel in groups of children. We show how young people’s independent travel  is mediated by (urban and rural) locational context, time of day, age and, in particular, by gender, and how adult efforts at surveillance may help shape resistances in the interstitial spaces which mobility itself provides.

Keywords


daily mobility, autonomy, gender, group travel, sexuality, Malawi

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