‘An elephant cannot fail to carry its own ivory’: Transgenerational ambivalence, infrastructure and sibling support practices in urban Uganda

Publication authors

Katie McQuaid, Robert M. Vanderbeck, Gill Valentine, Kristina Diprose, Chen Liu


This article examines how urban Ugandans navigate family support systems through a focus on the under-researched area of sibling care practices. We conceptualise such systems as transgenerational infrastructure to capture the complex flows, negotiations and dilemmas of both inter- and intra-generational relationships, orderings and power, situating family support practices within their spatial, structural and social contexts. Drawing on grounded narratives of lived experience collected in Jinja, Uganda, the article offers an alternative interpretation to what is commonly portrayed as a weakening of family support systems in sub-Saharan Africa. We develop a transgenerational ambivalence perspective which allows for a deeper understanding of the heterogeneity and fluidity of family support as an ethical practice replete with complex emotions and dilemmas shaped in the junctures between social norms, agency, resources and material conditions. Through focusing on working-age Ugandans, we demonstrate the potential for a transgenerational ambivalence approach to make visible contradictions at structural and subjective levels and focus greater attention on the importance of sibling relationships and birth order than is evident in the existing intergenerational literature. This can help researchers in the task of linking family dynamics to the growing precarity and uncertainties of life in the marginal socio-economic contexts of urban sub-Saharan Africa.