Academic journal article African Studies Review

Queer Agency in Kenya's Digital Media

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Queer Agency in Kenya's Digital Media

Article excerpt

Abstract: Although scholars have noted the rising potentials for democracy in Africa as a result of increased use of digital media and mobile technologies, there seems to be a disregard or disavowal of queerness as part of that growing democratic space, as well as a related tendency to regard African culture solely in terms of mainstream writing and journalism. This article seeks to bridge this gap in the scholarship by means of a discourse analysis of comments about queer identities that can be found in the digital media (Facebook, chat rooms, blogs, YouTube comments, and online newspaper feedback) in contemporary Kenya. Following work on queer arts and "low" theory, the article explores the possibilities offered by the Internet to challenge homophobia in Kenya. While acknowledging that digital-media venues contain more homophobia than mainstream media (books, television, newspapers) in terms of intensity and quantity, the article demonstrates that they also offer a unique platform in which gay people can respond to homophobic representations of their experiences and desires.

Résumé: Bien que les chercheurs ont noté la hausse d'un potentiel démocratique en Afrique grâce à l'utilisation accrue des médias numériques et des technologies mobiles, il semble y avoir une méconnaissance ou un désaveu de la culture gay dans le cadre de cet espace démocratique croissant, ainsi qu'une tendance liée à considérer la culture africaine uniquement en termes du journalisme et des écrits grandpublique. Cet article vise à combler cette lacune au moyen d'une analyse discursive des commentaires sur les identités gay qui peuvent être lus dans les médias numériques (Facebook, forums de discussion, blogs, commentaires YouTube, et commentaires de la presse en ligne) dans le Kenya contemporain. Suite à des travaux sur les arts gay et la théorie situationniste de la production de connaissance en dehors des institutions, l'article explore les possibilités offertes par l'Internet pour contester l'homophobie au Kenya. Tout en reconnaissant que les sites de médias numériques contiennent plus d'homophobie que les médias traditionnels (livres, télévision, journaux) en termes d'intensité et de quantité, l'article montre qu'ils offrent également une plateforme unique où les homosexuels peuvent répondre aux représentations homophobes de leurs expériences et de leurs désirs.

Key Words: Digital media; queer; homophobia; agency; Kenyan media

Introduction

Various scholars have acknowledged the correlation between the growth of democracy globally and developments in science and technology. For instance, Zheng (2008) demonstrates how digital platforms have produced in China new sociopolitical dynamics through Internet-mediated public spaces, suggesting that digital media open up new possibilities for mutual transformations of the state and its citizens. It has also been noted that as societies adopt new information technologies, they are likely to open up democratic spaces, and vice versa. However, although scholars have noted the potentials for democracy that have resulted from dramatic changes in the use of technology in Africa (see, e.g., Simon 2002; Henderson 2008; Leslie 2002; Mudhai 2011; Obijiofor 2011; Sairosse & Mutula 2004; Tambini 1999), there seems to be a disregard or disavowal of queerness as part of the widening democratic spaces in Africa.^ A few works do cover in some detail the representation of homosexuality in East African art and culture (Hoad 2007; Mwangi 2009), but the realm of cyberspace remains largely unexplored, especially in terms of how its users deploy homosexuality as a cultural signifier. This article, therefore, examines online expressions of culture to explore the ways in which digital platforms have opened up possibilities for challenging homophobia in Kenya. While evidence shows that the relatively lawless realm of digital social media has in fact enabled the spread of homophobia more than mainstream media like television and newspapers, it also demonstrates that the new media have offered a unique platform in which gay individuals in Kenya can respond to homophobic representations of their experiences and desires. …

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