Blake Defense: Serious Girls and Uncontrolled Lives


Serious Girls and Uncontrolled Lives: Poverty, Morality, and Health in the Construction of Adolescent Pregnancy in Sierra Leone

Sarah C. Blake

Friday August 27th from 10 am to 12 noon

Adolescent pregnancy has risen in prominence in national policy and popular discourse in settings such as Sierra Leone, where it is an experience shared by as many as one in three girls. While often presented as a neutral description of a social and health problem, “adolescent pregnancy” may carry multiple and sometimes clashing, definitions. These are contingent on context, and linked with ideas of moral order, sexuality, and age and gender hierarchies, as well as views of the state, family, and other social institutions. Drawing on a social constructionist approach, my dissertation explores how “adolescent pregnancy” is defined and situated in this context.

The three papers that comprise my project explore the topic from three different perspectives. The first paper analyzes the government of Sierra Leone’s National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage (2018-2022). The second uses focus groups discussions among adolescent girls, boys, and young men in a low-income urban setting to explore the nature of the problem as it relates to structural conditions and social norms. The third draws on data collected through a participatory exercise intended to establish adult and adolescent community members’ perspectives on when and why girls should acquire various “assets,” or knowledge, skills, relationships, and tangible resources to make a successful transition to adulthood in rural communities.

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