The dynamics of household formation and composition in the rural Eastern Cape.

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Centre for Social Science Research

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University of Cape Town

Focusing on a specific impoverished region of rural Eastern Cape, this paper examines the dynamics of household formation and composition within postapartheid migratory networks. While the fluidity, contingency and spatially extended nature of African households is generally understood, the paper focuses on the social relationships that both buttress and flow from these qualities. In conceptualising the notion of the household, the paper also suggests the rubric of the ‘household’ can be a powerful, cultural narrative for constituting practices of domesticity. Five detailed case studies are presented and the dynamics of household-making explicated in terms of three distinct levels of analysis. The first is the overarching macro-structural context which includes kinship practices, cultural mores, rural governance and the changing political economy of South Africa’s former homelands. The paper argues that the altered material base of rural livelihoods in the last two decades has seen traditional patterns of male circular migration and trajectories of household formation eclipsed by large numbers of economically marginalised workseekers who precariously churn between both urban-rural and within rural areas. These changes have undercut the prospects for traditional forms of household formation and reconfigured the nature of the contemporary conjugal contract.