Racializing teenage pregnancy: 'Culture' and 'tradition' in the South African scientific literature

Catriona Macleod, Kevin Durrheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The signifiers, 'race', 'culture' or 'ethnicity' are utilized in the teenage pregnancy literature (1) to highlight 'differences' in adolescent sexual and reproductive behaviour and (2) as explanatory tools. When 'white' teenagers are the focus of research, psychological explanations are usually invoked, whereas for 'black' teenagers, explanations are socio-cultural in nature. In this article, we explore how, through a process of racialization, the psychomedical literature on teenage pregnancy in South Africa contributes to the entrenchment of 'race', 'culture' and 'ethnicity' as fixed, 'natural' signifiers. We utilize Der̀rida's notion of différance, together with Phoenix and Woollett's adaptation - 'normalized absence/pathologized presence' - to indicate how 'black' people are cast as the Other, the pathologized presence which relies on the normalized absent trace, 'whiteness', for definition. We analyse how the notions of 'tradition' and 'culture' are deployed to sanitize or disguise the underlying racializing project. 'Black' is exoticized and rendered strange and thus open to scrutiny, monitoring and intervention.'Culture' and 'tradition' appeal to the myth of origin, thus providing pseudohistorical explanations which essentialize naturalize racialized collectivities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)778-801
Number of pages24
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Ethnicity
  • Psycho-medical literature
  • Race
  • Racialization
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Tradition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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