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Prostitution or partnership? Wifestyles in Tanzanian artisanal gold-mining settlements*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 February 2013

Deborah Fahy Bryceson*
42 Middle Way, Oxford OX2 7LG, United Kingdom, School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Jesper Bosse Jønsson*
P.O. Box 38635, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Hannelore Verbrugge*
Parkstraat 45, 3000 Leuven, Belgium, Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium


Tanzania, along with several other African countries, is experiencing a national mining boom, which has prompted hundreds of thousands of men and women to migrate to mineral-rich locations. At these sites, relationships between the sexes defy the sexual norms of the surrounding countryside to embrace new relational amalgams of polygamy, monogamy and promiscuity. This article challenges the assumption that female prostitution is widespread. Using interview data with women migrants, we delineate six ‘wifestyles’, namely sexual-cum-conjugal relationships between men and women that vary in their degree of sexual and material commitment. In contrast to bridewealth payments, which involved elders formalising marriages through negotiations over reproductive access to women, sexual negotiations and relations in mining settlements involve men and women making liaisons and co-habitation arrangements directly between each other without third-party intervention. Economic interdependence may evolve thereafter with the possibility of women, as well as men, offering material support to their sex partners.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments and criticisms were extremely helpful in revising the paper. The paper has had various sources of funding. Fieldwork was predominantly supported by GEOCENTER Denmark and Vlaamse-Interuniversitaire Raad (VLIR), while data analysis and writing-up was facilitated by a research grant from the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC RES-167-25-0488) as part of the Urbanization and Poverty in Mining Africa (UPIMA) project.



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