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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Disruptive Discourses: Kenyan Maasai Schoolgirls Make Themselves

  • Author(s): Switzer, Heather
  • et al.

This abridged discussion of Maasai schoolgirls and disruptive discourses comes from my dissertation (in progress), Making the Maasai Schoolgirl: Developing Modernities on the Margins, an ethnographic case study of development at the local level that examines an emergent social category in contemporary Kenyan Maasai society: the “schoolgirl.” It is only recently, in the past generation, that Maasai females have attended school in any number, and access remains relatively limited. The dissertation analyzes rural schoolgirls’ narratives of education and development in their daily lives, which are characterized by a contradictory resistance to ‘traditional’ gender norms and social forms. These narratives are embedded in larger questions regarding the transnational intersections of ethnicity, gender, and class in the formation of local identities in marginalized indigenous communities in postcolonial Kenya. The overall project relies on 98 interviews with Maasai schoolgirls ages 10-20 in nine primary government day schools in Kajiado District, Kenya. From this larger work, this short discussion thinks gender by examining the practical effects of two central disruptive discourses--thetensions between mainstream development’s “girl-child” and the Maasai “schoolgirl” and the articulation of futurity and the limits of the aspirational horizon of desire—as they play out within a neoliberal developmentalist discursive regime.

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