For more than ten years I have been conducting ethnographic research in South Africa. My scholarly interests focus on urban youth and the formations of community that occur in unexpected places. From the years 2000 to 2005 and 2008 to 2010, I worked with a group of older street youth in the city center of Durban, investigating the types of shelters they created among themselves. In my book, Street Life under a Roof: Youth Homelessness in South Africa (University of Illinois Press) I address the survival strategies of these youth largely through their experiences of cohabitation. In effect, I look at the hidden domesticities, intimacies, and subjectivities of the streets.

As an extension of my urban-based fieldwork, I also have conducted anthropological fieldwork in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Much of this research stems from my previous engagements with street youth, particularly in regard to their home situations. I have learned that in the context of the Zulu home, processes of reconciliation and reunification involve not merely the living but the deceased as well, i.e. the amadlozi (the ancestors). The parents of street youth often cite conflicts with the amadlozi as the reason for their children’s prolonged departures. Certainly they recognize the material conditions that prompt their children to run away. Yet they also refer to infractions from the past, to the attenuations of kinship in the home. They speak of unsuitable marital alliances and broken affiliations, of inactive lineages and unfulfilled filial obligations. To reunite the family, for them, requires a serious intercession with the amadlozi – a recognition of their authority and power with special ceremonies and sacrificial rites. Only then might their children cease such “up and down goings,” their confused, mixed-up ways. These rites of reconciliation however are complicated, time consuming, and quite costly too. They rarely come to pass. And so, from an ethnographic viewpoint of daily routine and daily living, I have been investigating the ruptures and reconstitutions of kinship ties in KwaZulu-Natal with a particular focus on the possibilities of reconciliation and reunification in the home.