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FamilEA: The Remaking of the Family in East Africa

Timeline: June 2023-May 2027

Funding institution: Swiss National Science Foundation, Sinergia programme, grant no. CRSII5_213547


    In East Africa, the (kin) family as an unequal system of production and reproduction is key to personal and collective identity formation, orientation and meaning making, as well as support and interpersonal sustenance. Today, all indications are that family structures across the region are undergoing significant changes, with innovative kinship practices developing fast. Considering the family’s crucial and many roles, such changes can be highly consequential. However, as they may not align with common conceptions of the family, they risk being unaccounted for. Moreover, definitions and approaches to the family differ across disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, and have not yet been reconciled. Among scholars and policy makers alike, dominant approaches and conventions make it difficult to fully gauge these changes and understand their wider implications.


    Project FamilEA seeks to understand the dynamics of family transformation in East Africa by combining four strategies:

    1. building a common interdisciplinary conceptual foundation;
    2. combining a range of methods from across the social sciences and the humanities to build a common core dataset;
    3. implementing, in two neighbouring countries with distinct family patterns, a comparative study design involving men and women, younger and middle-aged adults, capital cities and countryside, and various socio-economic groups and trajectories;
    4. including discipline-specific individual projects that will stand in close dialogue with one another and with the core theory and data sets.

    In particular, the project focuses on Kenya and Uganda, neighbouring countries where demographic changes show a mixed picture of similarities and differences. Using the countries’ two capitals as our starting point, we develop the concept of “family archipelago”, which challenges the image of the static household unit to trace the dynamic nature of family networks as circulating between multiple centres. We will trace those networks using an interdisciplinary practice-based approach that considers “doing families” as made of dense networks of exchange and support (care as well as economic) and constraints, inspired by Bourdieu’s practice theory and his conception of social capital. Such networks of exchange will be explored using multiple disciplines woven together through an interdisciplinary research design. The project enjoys a demographic/anthropological core consolidated by contributions from geography, history, and political science. The disciplines are represented through a team of 20 researchers, many of whom have a long collaboration history, and with due attention given to questions of representation (senior/junior, European/African, gender, etc.).


    The project consists of four phases, each building on the previous one. Phase 1 involves an interdisciplinary fieldwork exercise that will offer crucial conceptual integration for Phase 2, which will include a core quantitative-qualitative survey involving the project’s coordinators and junior members. The integrated theory and mixed data will offer a unique basis for the project’s policy implications, and will also be used to inform Phase 3, which will consist of specific projects tailored to individual scholars’ specialisation and interests, divided along the project’s five disciplines. Phase 4 will tie together the collective and individual aspects of the project by organising writing workshops and other group activities aimed at cross-fertilisation and publication. Throughout the project, special attention will be paid to interdisciplinary teamwork and collaboration, with ten meetings arranged in Western Europe and East Africa.


    Project team

    The project’s three partners include the Department of Anthropology and Sociology (ANSO) and the Gender Centre at the Geneva Graduate Institute (IHEID), the Institute of Demographics and Socioeconomics (IDESO) at the University of Geneva (UniGe) and the Demography of the Global South (DemoSud) Research Unit at the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) as a non-Swiss partner.

    Members of the research team are:

    • Yvan Droz, Geneva Graduate Institute, Switzerland
    • Valérie Golaz, Institut national d'études démographiques, France
    • Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva, Switzerland
    • Yonatan Nissim Gez, Instituto universitário de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal
    • Philip Abughul, University of Geneva, Switzerland
    • Marie Brossier, Université de Laval, Canada
    • Shane Doyle, University of Leeds, United-Kingdom
    • Norah Kiereri, Geneva Graduate Institute, Switzerland
    • Charles Lwanga, Makerere University, Uganda
    • Eric Rosana Masese, Moi University, Kenya
    • Hervé Maupeu, Université de Pau, France
    • Claire Médard, Institut de rechcreh pour le développement, France
    • Henri Médard, Université d'Aix-Marseille, France
    • Shelmith Wanjiru Ndungu, Geneva Graduate Institute, Switzerland
    • Samuel Owuor, University of Nairobi, Kenya
    • Isabel Pike, Mc Gill University, Canada
    • Stephen Ojiambo Wandera, Makerere University, Uganda
    • Paula Vermuë, Geneva Graduate Institute, Switzerland.

    In line with FamilEA’s three sets of objectives – theoretical, empirical, and policy – the project involves a range of outputs that extend beyond its ambitious publication plan, to include public dissemination (e.g., regular media contributions), policy impact (e.g., setting up a consultative forum made out of East African stakeholders to accompany the project), and institutional impact both within Western Europe and vis-à-vis East Africa.

    Related content


    In partnership with the Institute of Demographics and Socioeconomics (IDESO) at the University of Geneva (UniGe) and the Demography of the Global South (DemoSud) Research Unit at the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED).

    University of Geneva       Institut national d'études démographiques


    With the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

    Swiss National Science Foundation