Holly Porter. 2017. after Rape: Violence, Justice, and Social Harmony in Uganda

By Finnstrom, Sverker | African Studies Quarterly, February 2018 | Go to article overview

Holly Porter. 2017. after Rape: Violence, Justice, and Social Harmony in Uganda


Finnstrom, Sverker, African Studies Quarterly


Holly Porter. 2017. After Rape: Violence, Justice, and Social Harmony in Uganda. London: International African Institute and Cambridge University Press. 255 pp.

Over the last decade or so post-war Acholiland in northern Uganda--from where the Lord's Resistance Army rebels originated--has been subjected to a massive research intervention. The development leaves me partly puzzled: despite a virtual avalanche of books, articles and human rights reports, I have a nagging doubt that little is said that is not already known. For how long is it ethically sound to continue to produce and reprise research on more or less the same matters? When is the so-called field, including its informants (who, by the way, are real persons), exhausted? This question of research ethics in the field also has epistemological repercussions: what if yet another round of surveys end up only confirming or refuting the presuppositions established prior to coming to the field?

Such developments in mind, Holly Porter's After Rape stands out as different: thoughtful and important; a mandatory read. "Rape ... is not just violence. It is also sex, in all of its complex variations" (p. 55). By way of this claim, Porter links rape during times of war with rape that takes place regardless of any war, and she finds support from fellow anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom who argues that what people accept in peace will shape what they will tolerate in war. "Rape as sexual violence needs theories of both violence and sex" (p. 56).

Porter's work made me think of anthropologist Margaret Mead. When the discipline's ethnographic methods are in beautiful sync with the creativity and sensitivity of a particular fieldworker, anthropology can produce unique and groundbreaking stuff. Mead, when a young female fieldworker, produced exceptional and pioneer research on young Samoan women's agency and sexuality. Porter's study is a remarkable parallel. Two dimensions stand out. First, she anchors her arguments in the existing literature, both past and present, and still she advances previous analyses (mine included) in new, critical, and innovative ways. Second, Porter presents excellent (even if painful) ethnographic material that genuinely contributes to the body of research on Acholiland in particular and on the theme of rape in general. "Living here, really being here," Porter notes as she describes her approach as a fieldworker in postwar Acholiland, "has given this work its shape. The stories of rape and what happens afterwards occur within an Acholi rhythm of life, in which I engage" (pp. …

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