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Substituting for Families? Schools and Social Reproduction in AIDS-affected Lesotho

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Families, the state and employers all have a broad if differentiated interest in securing the daily and generational reproduction of society. Whereas in Western countries, the past two decades have witnessed a progressive displacement of responsibility for social reproduction from the state to families, in southern Africa, day-to-day social reproduction has always remained overwhelmingly the preserve of families. Today, however, the AIDS pandemic is radically transforming family life for many children, and prompting concerns (arguably a moral panic) about the potential breakdown of social reproduction. Even in Africa, schools have long supplemented families in delivering generational reproduction, albeit geared around the transfer of “factual” knowledge and with a narrow focus on preparing new generations of workers. In light of the AIDS pandemic, a number of commentators have suggested ways in which schools could further substitute for the diminishing capacities of families. Based on interviews with decision-makers and analysis of policy documents, I explore a number of interventions being enacted in Lesotho's schools. I argue that such initiatives remain small in scale and often justified in relation to retaining children in school. In practice both government and employers remain more interested in the generational reproduction of workers than in daily reproduction. If the welfare needs of AIDS-affected children are to be met through schooling, there is a need for the education sector's role to be understood in relation to an ethics of care, rather than the functionalist production of a future workforce.

Keywords: AIDS; Africa; education; schools; social reproduction

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Human Geography, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK;, Email:

Publication date: November 1, 2008


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