Macleod and Durrheim (2003) have noted points of tension in the literature on teenage pregnancy, for example the tension between what has been called ‘mainstream’ and ‘revisionist’ approaches in the American literature on the subject. The mainstream approach to understanding teenage pregnancy is what sociologists call structural-functionalism, which addresses the question of social organisation and how it is maintain in society. The assumptions behind the structural-functionalism are stability, harmony, and evolution in society (Brinkerhoff, White, Ortega & Weitz, 2002a). When analysis is done within this tradition, two basic questions are often considered. These are functions –consequences of social structures that have positive effects on the stability of society and dysfunction –those consequences of social structures that have negative effects on the stability of society (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002a).
This is the main reason why mainstream writers see teenage pregnancy as a social problem that leads to the disruption of schooling; poor obstetric outcomes; inadequate mothering; poor child outcomes; relationship difficulties with relatives, partners and peers; and demographic concerns about increasing population numbers (Macleod & Durrheim, 2003). Within the structural-functional mainstream tradition, factors contributing to teenage pregnancy include reproductive ignorance; risk-taking behaviours; precocious pubertal development; single-parenthood, female-headed households; family dysfunction; poverty; poor self-esteem and moral development; poor health services; negative peer influence; coercive sexual relations; the breakdown of tradition and the cultural value placed on fertility (Macleod & Durrheim, 2003).
Most of the studies focusing on KZN follow a mainstream structural-functionalism tradition, and the terms of reference of this review are also largely informed by a mainstream perspective of teenage pregnancy.
A revisionist argument is founded within the conflict theory tradition. The conflict theory addresses the points of stresses and conflict in society and the ways in which they contribute to social change (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002a). The primary assumptions here are competition over scarce resources, structural inequality in power and reward, and social change. Conflict theorists ask: who benefits from those social structures and how do those who benefit maintains their advantage (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002a)? This tradition holds that early reproduction represents a rational reaction to a number of personal and structural constraints experienced by teenagers in the African community (Macleod & Durrheim, 2003). Early reproduction may be encouraged by the number of successful single parent black women, and the fact that motherhood is viewed as a way of achieving adulthood status without the necessity of amassing bride wealth (Macleod & Durrheim, 2003). Little incentive was seen to follow the norms and values associated with the largely white South African middle class (Macleod & Durrheim, 2003).
It appears that very few studies have only recently started to adopt a symbolic interactionist approach to understanding teenage pregnancy. Symbolic interactionism addresses the subjective meanings of human acts and the processes through which people develop and communicate shared meanings (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002a). There are three assumptions that underpin the symbolic interactionist tradition in these studies. These are:
· Symbolic meanings are crucial in that any behaviour, gesture, or word can have multiple interpretations that can symbolise many things. To understand human behaviour, one must learn what it means to the participants.
· Meanings grow out of relationships. When these relationships change, their meanings change.
· Meanings are negotiated. People do not accept others’ meanings uncritically, but each of us play an active role in negotiating the meaning that things will have for us (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002a).
Studies done using a symbolic interactionist approach, provide an in-depth understanding of how individuals are shaped by relationships and social structures (Brinkerhoff et al., 2002a). For example, it would be possible to examine how growing up in a large as opposed to a small family or in a working-class as opposed to an upper-class family affects individual attitudes and behaviour.