"We have a lot to tell" An ethnography of children’s understandings of health and illness
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Little is known about children's ideas, understandings and coping mechanisms regarding health and illness in Namibia, where children are greatly valued and engaged in social life, but their perspectives are rarely sought or understood. This thesis uses children’s own perspectives as the focal point for examining health and illness in northern Namibia. The study ethnographically investigates the circumstances and practices of twenty-six young participants between the ages of nine and twelve. It explores the connections between agency and care, responsibility, hope and resistance as the children aim to create meaningful, healthy lives for themselves, their families and their communities. The research techniques involved ethnographic fieldwork and participatory methods, including body mapping, drawings, free listing, photographs and health diaries. In this thesis I argue that children have what I term multi-layered agency that helps them to navigate health and illness challenges. Drawing upon Sherry Ortner (2006), James Laidlaw (2000), Michel de Certeau (1984), and others, I reveal how children’s agency reflects their individual wills, hopes and modes of resistance, at the same time that it uncovers their relationally constituted responsibilities, duties and identities. It shows that rural communities’ strategies regarding wellbeing are not just shaped by adults, but by the lived experiences of individual children. By showing how health and illness are embedded within wider family, community and kinships relationships, as well as unequal socio economic realities and broader cultural understandings of taboo and the body, this thesis demonstrates the wide range of factors that children must navigate in order to live and manoeuvre within the health challenges that they face. Furthermore, this thesis emphasises that in addressing health challenges, children’s involvement matters. The aim of this thesis is therefore to challenge Namibian health authorities, policy makers and broader communities to deepen their understandings of the daily involvement and challenges children face in their agentive roles and responsibilities towards others. The hope is that relevant interventions will be created which might contribute effectively to improved outcomes for children living and experiencing health and illness challenges in the context of the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis in Namibia and Southern Africa more broadly.