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Cultural and Social Anthropology

Chair for Social Anthropology – Professor Dr. Erdmute Alber

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Generational relations and intra-family resource flows in West Africa: a Benin – Togo comparison

Funding: DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Duration: 2009 – 2010; 2014 - 2016, completed 2021

Project lead: Prof. Dr. Erdmute Alber

Research associate: Tabea Häberlein


The research project focuses on changing intergenerational relationships and in particular on changes in the role and status of older people in north-east Togo (Kabiye), north-west Benin (Lokpa), and north-east Benin (Baatombu). The focus of the study is on resource flows between the generations, especially those that provide for the elderly. To date, there have hardly been any systematic (social anthropological) studies on generational relations and old people in Africa, despite the prevalence of stereotypical assumptions on this topic: On the one hand, the gerontocratic elderly are portrayed blocking the younger generation's access to social and political resources. On the other hand - and in contrast to this dismissive concept - the solidary African extended family is invoked, capable of handling all intergenerational care modalities without outside help. It is also claimed that both aspects of "African" generational relations will dissolve in the course of modernization processes.

In order to critically examine these frequently recited clichés, the research project is conducting quantifying surveys on intergenerational family resource flows at three rural locations over the course of one year. The comparative analysis of the three case studies is intended to provide conclusions on national and regional characteristics of kinship and intergenerational care. This also takes into account reflow to the countryside from the city or from other diaspora communities of the respective ethnic groups.

This is complemented by qualitative field research. It is designed to explore the social construction of age and generational relations, the changing roles of the elderly, and their positions of power and status within families. The project aims to investigate the material substance of intergenerational kinship relations in three different rural ethnic groups in West Africa: Two related ethnic groups in neighbouring states (Kabiye in Togo and Lokpa in Benin) and another in the state of Benin, but structurally distinct from the others (Baatombu). The intention is to make a contribution to the overall weak state of generational research in social anthropology.

Publications and lectures on the project (pdf)

Webmaster: Nadja Bscherer

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