“Just Exhaustion!”: Motherhood, Work, and Human Capital Investment in Senegal

Date &Time: Friday 16 August, 3pm-5pm

Location: Milgate Room, A.D. Hope Building #14, Australian National University

Abstract: Over the past two decades, the Senegalese state has reimagined national commitments to care for children and families as a politics of investment. Senegalese families today have unprecedented state support for their children following the creation of Senegal’s national early childhood care and education system in 2000. Case des Tout-Petits centers offer an array of public education and child welfare activities, including heavily subsidised preschool for children aged three to six. Development specialists, education theorists, and feminists have widely argued that affordable childcare helps “relieve” women of unpaid domestic work and “empower” them to pursue opportunities outside the home. Why, then, have many Senegalese mothers claimed that little children are now more exhausting than ever? This talk explores the problem of women’s fatigue by investigating how human capital investment projects like Senegal’s preschool system complicate motherhood in unexpected ways. Rather than presume that motherhood inherently entails forms of work, the presentation examines how attempts to naturalise motherhood into mothering work are negotiated and contested, with broader implications for how anthropologists might theorise neoliberal interventions into family life. 

Speaker: Kathryn E. McHarry is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on global childhood policymaking and post-millennial transformations of age, care, and labor in Africa. Her dissertation, Entrepreneurs of the Future: Speculative Care and Early Childhood Education in Senegal examines the politics of human capital interventions and the economisation of family life.

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