My dissertation research involves tracing the multiple developmental pathways through which children and adolescents negotiate sexuality among the Makonde tribe of the rural border region of Mtwara, Tanzania. Specifically, my research is oriented around an ongoing controversy over the relationship between initiation rituals practiced in the region and adolescent sexuality. These rituals, which involve teaching young people the cultural norms of gender roles, family life and sexuality, are currently under fire following the publication of government statistics reporting an adolescent pregnancy rate of over 30% in the region, a rate high above the national average. In my research, the controversy over these rituals serves as an orienting framework for a broader examination of the many individual, cultural, environmental and economic factors—including the rituals—shaping adolescent sexuality within the rapidly changing cultural environment of rural Mtwara.
This research was conducted over two periods totaling 21 months in rural Mtwara, Tanzania. Through the generous support of the Lemelson/Society for Psychological Anthropology Pre-Dissertation Fund, I conducted 10 weeks of pilot research in Tanzania in the summer of 2008. During this time, I was able to hone my research question, data collection methods and language skills, develop contacts with collaborators in Tanzania, and conduct pilot interviews with adolescents in rural Mtwara. The opportunity to conduct pilot research prepared me to write additional successful proposals for funding from the National Science Foundation and the Philanthropic Education Organization, allowing me to return to Tanzania in March 2009 for an additional 18 months of field research. I returned from Tanzania in August 2010 and plan to defend my dissertation in the summer of 2011.