Experimenting Sex / Exploring Gender – Revolutions and Contestations

Experimenting Sex / Exploring Gender – Revolutions and Contestations

In his provocative 2006 piece “Le potentat sexuel,” published in the Cameroonian newspaper Le Messager, Achille Mbembe perceived a “silent” and “to a great extent undocumented” “sexual revolution” in postcolonial Africa since the end of the last century. In a forthcoming paper, anthropologist Basile Ndjio even sees a “new African” emerging from alternative forms of sexuality, in opposition to heteronormative invocations of the Muntu as a “postcolonial libidinal African straight.”

For this stream, we invite panels and papers that investigate these observations. What kind of sexual revolutions – silent, undocumented or otherwise – take place on the continent? How do these produce new sexualities and erotic subjectivities? How do such alternative practices and identifications challenge dominant notions of sex and gender? How do such experiments speak to broader societal shifts? How do they resist or transform globalizing labels and concepts – such as LGBT+, gay, trans, queer, homosexual or MSM / WSW? And what futures do they open up? This stream brings together panels that address new experiments with and explorations of sex and gender in different articulations of Africa and the global.


  1. Alternative Sexualities and Illicit Enrichment

Convenors: Basile Ndjio (University of Douala) and Peter Geschiere (University of Amsterdam)

A common theme in recent debates in Africa on alternative sexualities (and notable same-sex practices) is the link with more or less illicit forms of enrichment. In Cameroon and Gabon people speak now of an emerging ‘anusocracy’ – anal penetration being linked to suspect forms of enrichment. Interesting is that there is considerable variation in how this link is construed (for instance whether it is the active or the passive partner that is supposed to become rich – or both). Indeed, visionary thinkers like Achille Mbembe or Joseph Tonda forward different interpretations of such ‘anusocracy.’ Of equal interest is that even though preoccupation with the anal as a source of riches is now often presented as something new, older ethnographies (for these countries going back to the period before colonial conquest) highlight similar linkages. Moreover, similar associations are reported for many other parts of Africa. Vinh-Kim Nguyen, Christophe Broqua and Thomas Hendriks write about homosexuality as being linked to the wish for getting access to riches in respectively Ivory Coast, Mali and DR Congo. Similar images play a role in debates in Nigeria and also in South Africa (cf. work by Rudolf Gaudio and Graeme Reid). For Senegal, Gnagna Gning refers even to 18thcentury sources on this idea. Can we see this as a link that emerges especially from African contexts or has it to be added to Sigmund Freud’s classic enumeration in his Three Essaysof factors related to what he called die Inversion?



  1. Sex Workers as Researchers: Possibilities and Challenges

Convenor: Naomi van Stapele (Institute of Social Studies, The Hague)

This panel is inspired by my own experience of collaborating with sex-workers as researchers in a project on Sex-Work and Protection in Addis Abeba and Nairobi. The aim is to compare with other experiences with such collaboration.

Contributors: Forthcoming


  1. Author Meets Critics – Knowing Women: Same-Sex Intimacy, Gender and Identity in Postcolonial Ghana (Cambridge University Press, 2020) by Serena Dankwa

Convenor: Serena Dankwa (independent researcher)



4. Round Table: Queer Studies and Sexuality Studies in/from Africa

Convenors: SN Nyeck (independent researcher), Thomas Hendriks (University of Oxford) and Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam)

This round table brings together contributors to two recent edited volumes on sexuality studies and queer studies in/from Africa: Nyeck, SN. 2020. Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies(Routledge) and Spronk, R. & Hendriks, T. 2020. Readings in Sexualities from Africa(Indiana University Press). They will discuss the state of the art and possible futures in these quickly developing (sub)fields.


Organisers: Thomas Hendriks (thomas.hendriks@africa.ox.ac.uk); Rachel Spronk (R.Spronk@uva.nl) and Peter Geschiere (P.L.Geschiere@uva.nl)

Image credit: Afbeelding van Denis Doukhan via Pixabay