Positive adjustment to poverty: how family communities encourage resilience in traditional African contexts

08 October 2014

In the main, resilience literature explains positive adjustment to adversity in ways that are biased towards western culture. Although studies of resilience among African Americans have reported the importance of kinship, a typically Africentric concept, no studies have explored how family communities promote youths’ positive adjustment, particularly in contexts of poverty. Family communities are a feature of traditional African culture and comprise extended family members, both alive and deceased. We draw on 14 case studies to illustrate how positive adjustment to poverty was facilitated by appreciative attachment to this community. Each case comprised a resilient black South African student who had adjusted well to the complex challenges associated with poverty. An inductive comparison of their resilience processes, as recounted by each participant in narrative and visual form, demonstrated how their positive adjustment was supported by resilience-supporting transactions within their family community. Specifically, expectation-dominated and example-focused transactions, arising from the family community’s accentuation of mutuality, supported resilience. As such, we conclude that black youth resilience follows communal pathways as emphasised by Africentric culture, in general, and kinship systems, in particular, but urge continued critical investigation of the influence of family communities on youths’ resilience.