Learning to wait: schooling and the instability of adulthood for young men in Uganda

Claire Elisabeth Dungey, Lotte Meinert

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


This chapter explores various perspectives on the shifting notion of adulthood in Uganda. Invoking Paul Willis’ book ‘Learning to Labour (2000 [1977]) concerning working class lads in Great Britain, we explore the implicit curriculum of how young men in Uganda learn to habituate the practice of waiting which is both characterised by creativity and passivity. Based on fieldwork in Kisoro and Tororo, we argue that young men learn to habituate the practice of waiting through schooling which leads them toward a kind of educated, docile but often frustrated and unstable adulthood.
A growing body of literature around the globe has focused on how youth feel trapped in endless liminality without being able to achieve the assumed permanence of adulthood. However, male adulthood in rural Uganda is far from stable, as the position can easily be lost or gained. Adult status depends on several dimensions, such as being able to secure housing, being stable in marriage, having children and responsibilities, and providing steadily for a family. We suggest that schooling in Uganda, which is otherwise celebrated as a means of progress, paradoxically prepares young people to get stuck. The practices of waiting, often enforced through discipline, prepare young people to expect that waiting and enduring hardship will pay off in the end. This expectation makes the status of adulthood particularly vulnerable because the jobs and opportunities that young men learn to wait for often do not come into being by waiting.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationElusive adulthoods : the anthropology of new maturities
EditorsDeborah Durham, Jacqueline Solway
Place of publicationBloomington, IN
PublisherIndiana University Press
Publication date2017
ISBN (Print)978-0-253-02973-7
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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