Reproductive Labour, Law and Property Accumulations: Rereading East African Social History

In this paper Ambreena Manji revisits Luise White’s path-breaking book on prostitution in colonial Nairobi and read it for care. She explores the ‘labour forms’ of prostitution in colonial Nairobi uncovered by White and rereads them as forms of care labour, focusing on the provision of care and its receipt. She studies White’s account of Malaya women as ‘an intimate-labour class’. She looks at how the care labour of women who worked in prostitution facilitated their independent property accumulation and described how a care:property nexus emerged from this. Ambreena shows that the adoption by these women of independent kin (‘pseudo-kin’ in Janet Bujra’s formulation) – often younger women who provided them with reproductive labour by cooking, cleaning and living in their homes – was a reproductive bargain that gave rise to strategic bequests. She asks: how was property transmitted in these ‘women to women marriages’? This paper seeks to understand care and especially care claims to property in its historical specificity. Focusing on labour forms and the colonial state, its methodology follows Shula Marks’ observation that ‘as new questions break the surface’ it might be possible to ‘suggest new ways of hearing and seeing old stories.’

Ambreena has been Professor of Land Law and Development at Cardiff since 2014. Before that, she was seconded to Nairobi as the Director of the British Academy’s British Institute in Eastern Africa (2010-2014). As the first lawyer, the first woman and the first African to direct the Institute, she was responsible for a broadening of its subject reach beyond its traditional associations with archaeology, anthropology, history and political science. Under her leadership, the Institute became known as a centre of excellence for work on constitutional change in Eastern Africa. Ambreena’s research is focused on Law and Society in Africa. She has written widely on land law reform and her book The Struggle for Land and Justice in Modern Kenya will be published by James Currey/Brewer and Boydell in 2020. Her research is strongly interdisciplinary and collaborative. She has published on the history of African legal education, on law in African literature and on women and the law. She has co-published with colleagues in history (Cambridge), political science (LSE and Columbia) and development studies (Nairobi). At Cardiff, Ambreena co-directs the Law and Global Justice Centre. With funding from the British Academy, the Centre launched its Socio-Legal Journals Global South Initiative in 2018, with writing workshops for early career legal scholars hosted by our partner Law Schools in Recife (Brazil), Bangalore (India), Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya) attended by editors from five of the UK’s leading law journals (Social and Legal Studies; the Journal of Law and Society; the Modern Law Review; the International Journal of Law in Context; and Feminist Legal Studies) . The Centre hosts the African Feminist Judgments project which Ambreena leads with Sibongile Ndashe (ISLA, Johannesburg) and Sharifah Sekalala (Warwick Law School). It also founded the Law School’s path-breaking Global Justice Pro Bono programme in 2015, working on legal cases in Tanzania and Kenya and providing their students with the opportunity of fully funded law placements with litigators and the judiciary in Nairobi and Delhi. Ambreena is President of the African Studies Association UK 2018-2020 and in this capacity she has worked on issues of unequal knowledge production and dissemination.