Academic journal article Ethnology

Sexuality, Power, and Social Order in Cartagena, Colombia

Academic journal article Ethnology

Sexuality, Power, and Social Order in Cartagena, Colombia

Article excerpt

Now more than ever, sexuality has become an important topic in social analysis. Generated by (among other things) gays' and lesbians' increasing political and cultural visibility, the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, reassertions of puritanical sexual morality during the 1980s, and the social sciences' turn toward the study of everyday life, scholarly interest in sex has quickened. In particular, a vital literature has arisen dealing with the relationship between sexuality and social order. Analysts have examined the role of sexuality in furthering nationalist projects (Mosse 1985; Bland and Mort 1983; Parker et al. 1992), in defining colonial subjectivities and ensuring colonial domination (de Groot 1989; Stoler 1992), and in maintaining class and racial hierarchies within metropolitan and colonial societies (Martinez-Alier 1989 [1974]; Stolcke 1981; Goddard 1987; Halperin 1990). Common to this work is the view that sexuality, as representation and practice, is intimately involved in relations of power and inequality.

This article examines the role of sexuality in discourse on social order among older popular-class[2] men in Santa Ana, a neighborhood of Cartagena, Colombia. These men inhabit a moment in history when their economic power is eroding, control over young people waning, and authority over women increasingly challenged. They feel that their stable, orderly way of life is under assault by the wealthy, by popular-class youth, and by popular-class women who have forsaken the obligations that once bound rich and poor, men and women, elders and juniors, in unequal but purportedly mutually satisfying relations. These groups now are said to act out of self-interest. Older men combat the forces of "disorder" through a discourse that appeals to the ideals that supposedly sustained that earlier, more desirable world. This discourse intertwines ideas of appropriate gender, class, and racial identities, and sexuality provides a crucial link between them. For these men, in particular, sexual misconduct threatens social order, for they perceive social order as built on age, gender, class, and race hierarchies, which in turn are modelled on male-dominated heterosexuality. Sexuality is readily used to represent unequal social relations because it enacts inequality in relationships that are purportedly natural and fixed. That is, sexuality functions this way because as an assumed common denominator of personal experience it both organizes erotic experience and endorses masculine power as a model for other social relations. The older men are respectables[3] (santaneros) - men who consider themselves solidary, respecting, and motivated by obligations, not self-interest - and constitute its most vocal and powerful core.

CLASS AND GENDER IDENTITY IN SANTA ANA

Santa Ana is one of Cartagena's oldest neighborhoods outside the colonial quarter. Its approximately 4,000 residents are mainly low- to lower-middle income. Most men work in construction, petty commodity production and commerce; very few have steady, well-paying, and/or unionized jobs. Most women do not work outside the home, and those that do are mainly in domestic service. There is only one paved street in the neighborhood, and water and electricity are subject to periodic outages and rationing; some dwellings lack running water altogether.

Questions of class identity are particularly acute for santaneros right now. Cartagena, a city of about one million people on Colombia's Caribbean coast, has been transformed from a sleepy port into a major tourist destination (Strassmann 1982; Lemaitre 1983) that also contains a significant industrial base. The traditional commercial and cattle-ranching elite has expanded into industry and now runs its enterprises along more clearly capitalist lines. The illegal drug trade has provided capital for constructing tourist facilities as well as luxury apartments for both the old elites and the new, drug-trade class. …

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