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Structure and Behavior in the Social Demography of Africa

Matthew Lockwood
Population and Development Review
Vol. 21, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 1-32
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/2137411
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2137411
Page Count: 32
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Structure and Behavior in the Social Demography of Africa
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Abstract

The role of culture in determining demographic behavior in sub-Saharan Africa has attracted increasing attention. But in theorizing about "culture," demographers have tended to draw on the work of British structural-functional anthropologists, who saw behavior as determined by social norms that were in turn generated by underlying social structures, functional in nature. This has led to a number of features: an emphasis on macro-level associations; a working assumption that behavior is governed by norms; the analysis of change solely in terms of external forces; and the use of generalized descriptions of both ideas and behavior in African societies. The author argues for a complementary, micro-level approach that emphasizes the meaning of norms to actors in society. Examples based on existing ethnographic material from Sierra Leone and the Gambia are used to show how different people deploy different normative notions and how discrepancies between norms and behavior are dealt with. This material is then placed within a wider setting to provide an alternative hypothesis relating social structure and changing behavior.

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