Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa

Article excerpt

Re-thinking Sexualities in Africa. Edited by Signe Arnfred. Sexuality, Gender and Society in Africa Research Programme. Uppsala, Sweden: The Nordic Africa Institute, 2004. Pp. 276: 15 illustrations. £16.95 SEK 220/euro 20 paper.

This anthology is an important contribution, both empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated, to an emerging field of scholarly inquiry-sexuality in Africa. The essays cover a wide range of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to Tanzania, from Mali to South Africa, and an impressive diversity of topics-the HIV/AIDS pandemic, female circumcision, interracial sex, African feminisms, constructions of masculinity, sexuality, and self-fashioning, to name a few. The essays further exemplify many of the methodological approaches required for an investigation into such a diverse and contested terrain of intellectual inquiry: ethnographic fieldwork, colonial discourse analysis, feminist analysis, and African intellectual history. For these reasons, it deserves a wide readership.

The anthology is interspersed with exquisite, mostly mid- to latetwentieth-century photographs from West Africa-studio portraits that subtly eroticize the iconography of modernity: telephones, motorcycles, cigarettes, vinyl records, fashion. The photographs provide a fascinating popular cultural counterpoint to the ethnographic and theoretical essays, and frame the dynamics of African self-representation within the anthology's discussions of African pleasure, desire, and political agency.

No single anthology can be completely comprehensive or even representative, so it is with a certain suspension of generosity that I point out the connections the anthology did not make, the resources that were not mobilized in the undoubtedly urgent task of rethinking sexualities in Africa. In her introduction, Signe Arnfred argues that rethinking sexualities in Africa "necessitates a double move of de-construction and re-construction." The risk of any rethinking is a certain reinvention of the wheel, and this is evident in the anthology's uneven relationship with recent significant strands in African studies, more generally. Two of the contributors, in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, posit something called "dark continent discourse," a term taken up in Arnfred's framing introduction, which clearly is related to the significant debates around Afropessimism in the late 1990s. …

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