July 30, 2020
Connected Lives

Families, households, health and care in contemporary South Africa

Families, however constituted, are the most important social support structures for all people worldwide, regardless of a country’s economic status; degree of industrialisation; and the structure, size and provisions of the service sector.  Affective social ties bring meaning to people’s lives. The power of family relationships is not replaced in any setting, even when some of the work of a family is, or might be, outsourced by, for example, childcare or aged care, domestic workers or live-in assistants, takeaway food and meals-on-wheels, or community health workers and volunteers.

Households provide both the context of everyday living, and the labour involved in sustaining health and wellbeing. Household sizes vary. Some are extremely large and stable, others swell and shrink according to circumstance and time of year. Household composition and size do not necessarily indicate stability, and over time households expand or contract with births, marriages, fostering and adoption, migration and deaths.

Usually, but not always, households include family members, and some include people who share a space for practical reasons; other households become de-facto families, even if the relationships through blood and marriage – consanguinal and affinal ties – are tenuous. At the same time, families extend beyond households, locally and at greater distance, with variations in the strength of the ties of family members and their involvement in each other’s lives.

These ongoing transformations of living arrangements impact on household capacity to meet the need for the everyday care of household members, as well as added needs that derive from responses to health crises, acute illnesses, chronic disease, and challenges associated with multi-morbidity and care-giving.

Connected Lives explores how contemporary changes in family-making, household composition and kinship relations influence decisions made about and experiences of care-giving and support. The 29 case studies that are integrated throughout the book consider how families are constituted, and how, in different households, people care for each other and care for children, the sick and the elderly. The book draws attention to how people in households manage everyday tasks and challenges, while negotiating structural and economic constraints, and the competing needs and demands of care giving, the case studies.


The case studies are striking in their nuanced and ‘thick’ description of life lived in South Africa, reflecting engagements and encounters at multiple and disparate points. They offer a unique picture of diversity, warmth, kindness and care that disrupt any notion of a singular way of life. We intended the account of contemporary South Africa, as presented here, to be told through the words of many authors who come from different personal backgrounds and disciplines, and occupy different positions within academia and in South African society. Through the work of these authors and their interlocutors, this book presents a unique lens into health, well-being and care in contemporary South Africa. 

For the launch of the book we invited the authors to send us one minute audio or video abstracts about their case studies. The audio abstracts can be heard here, the video abstracts can be viewed here and get the book here.

Edited by Nolwazi Mkhwanazi & Lenore Manderson

Nolwazi Mkhwanazi is associate professor in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and presently director of the Medical Humanities programme at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research). She is co-editor, with Deevia Bhana, of Young Families: Gender, Sexuality and Care (2017).

Lenore Manderson is distinguished professor of public health and medical anthropology in the School of Public Health at Wits, and distinguished visiting professor in environment and society at Brown University, Providence, RI. She is editor of the journal Medical Anthropology and series editor for Rutgers University Press on a monograph series, Medical Anthropology: Health, Inequality and Social Justice.