P026 – The Sexual Making of African Middle-classes; Bodily Techniques and Social Sensibilities as New Markers of Social Differentiation?
10 July, 16:00-17:30

Van Dijk Rijk / African Studies Centre, Leiden/University of Amsterdam
Spronk Rachel / University of Amsterdam


The panel explores processes of social stratification and class-distinctiveness through the lens of technologies of the self in which sexuality plays a particular role. From counselling groups to going to the gym, ideas of sexuality are discussed, modified and (re)invented.
While in 2011 the African Development Bank claimed to have ‘discovered’ – and thus rendered visible –the existence of an emerging middle class in Africa on the basis of socio-economic markers of stratification, this panel explores a different lens through which this ‘discovery’ can be argued. An emergent literature is analyzing social stratification and class-distinctiveness on the basis of consumptive patterns and the shaping of lifestyles, through which the contours of groups that otherwise remained largely invisible in African Studies are more forcefully being brought out. These contours are marked by new appetites for and attitudes towards specific technologies of the self; technologies that require having at least the (modest) means to invest some resources in health and beauty, in relationships and new gender-ideals, in new notions of the private, intimate life-space and in a presence in public domains. In this process, sexuality is a particularly dense transfer point of cultural, religious and social sensibilities through which groups and individuals distinguish themselves vis-a-vis others. Counselling groups, television programs and gyms are such places where ideas of sexuality are discussed and (re)invented that shape the particular form these social relations are expected to take. This panel aims at bringing together empirical studies that focus on the sexual styling of the variety of middle class social positions, and compare these in a cross-cultural fashion.

La fabrication sexuelle des classes moyennes africaines; sensibilités et techniques corporelles comme nouveaux marqueurs de différenciation sociale?
Le panel explore les processus de stratification sociale et de distinction de classe au regard des techniques de soi dans lesquelles la sexualité joue un rôle particulier. Des groupes de counseling jusqu’aux cours de gym, les idées sur la sexualité sont discutées, modifiées et (re)inventés. Alors qu’en 2011, la Banque africaine de développement déclarait avoir « découvert »- et donc rendu visible – l’existence d’une classe moyenne émergente en Afrique à partir de marqueurs socio-économiques, ce panel propose d’explorer sous un autre angle cette « découverte ». Un nouveau courant de recherche analyse les hiérarchies sociales et les distinctions de classes à partir des habitudes de consommation et des modes de vie. Cette approche permet de définir les contours d’un groupe jusqu’ici resté en grande partie invisible dans le champ des études africaines. Ce groupe est marqué par des goûts et des attitudes spécifiques à l’égard des techniques de soi; techniques qui impliquent d’avoir certaines ressources (même modestes) à investir dans la santé et la beauté, dans les relations et les nouveaux idéaux de genres, dans les nouvelles notions de vie privée, d’espace d’intimité et de présence dans le domaine public. Dans ce contexte, la sexualité est un point de transfert particulièrement important des sensibilités culturelles, religieuses et sociales par lesquelles les groupes et les individus se distinguent vis-à-vis des autres. Les groupes de counseling, les programmes de télévision et les salles de gymnastiques sont des lieux où les idées liées à la sexualité sont discutées et (re)inventées, contribuant ainsi à transformer les relations sociales. Ce panel vise à rassembler les études empiriques qui mettent l’accent sur la variété des pratiques sexuelles en fonction de la diversité des statuts au sein de la classe moyenne, afin de les comparer.


Paper 1

Petit Gitty / African Studies Centre Leiden/University of Amsterdam

Objects of Healing and Sexuality in Urban Dodoma, Tanzania

This paper explores middle class men and women-in their late twenties and thirties–and their knowledge and use of objects (such as amulets) to cure and protect themselves from illnesses while they are entering the reproductive phase in their life-cycle. Whereas they have access to bio-medical knowledge, the aim is to find out if and how these young adults use and receive information about certain healing objects in their daily lives and explore how they negotiate the tension between traditional healing and modern medicine in relation to reproduction. The research takes place in Dodoma, the small but upcoming capital of Tanzania with an emergent middle class from different origins.
Following amongst others Spronk (2006) and Miller & Parrott (2009), this paper looks at the realities of young adults, through (the stories about) objects used for both healing and sexual purposes, but also looks at healing and sexuality in the middle class through the lens of the usage of such objects. This, in relation to the use and knowledge of stories of objects, is a new way of looking at the middle class and will combine medical anthropology and material culture.
An important concept in this paper is mobility. The middle income class is mobile in both a geographical and economic sense while there is also a mobility of these healing and protective objects. The assumption is that both the objects and the middle income class people are not only local, but that they cross several boundaries.

Paper 2

Valois Caroline / University of Edinburgh

Gaining Girl Power: Sexuality, Gender and Social Differentiation in Ugandan Pentecostalism

In recent years the rapid growth of Ugandan Pentecostalism, has worked to not only redefine the nation’s religious landscape but also the way individual converts publicly distinguish themselves. Of all the Pentecostal Churches in Kampala Miracle Centre proves the largest and most economically sound, and directly caters to more economically mobile women through its sub-ministry ‘Girl Power’. Begun by Pastor Jessica Kayanja, the wife of Miracle Centre’s founder, Jessica embodies Girl Power’s public vision of female sexuality, representing a near Platonic truth of what has become the Girl Power woman. This paper examines the case of Girl Power to understand how sexuality is discussed and reinvented within Ugandan Pentecostalism. As consumptive habits are encouraged the ladies of Girl Power are instructed to ‘dress for their men’, invest in beauty and fashion, and maintain a healthy diet. At Girl Power beauty, sexuality and femininity are paths to a fulfilled life, happy marriage, and the direct result of a healthy relationship with God. Following religious conversion women are encouraged to make their sexuality public, as an infusion of the Divine has rendered sexuality a sacred tool necessary for procuring a happy life. Encouraging a focus on the self, women are urged to investment in the physical, reconfiguring the juncture between the public and private, while rendering new consumptive habits and markers of social stratification among the women of Girl Power.

Paper 3

Sieveking Nadine / Centre for Area Studies, Universität Leipzig

Performing the emotional habitus of new urban middle classes –intimacy on stage in West African contemporary choreography

The success of contemporary art from Africa on international stages has provoked an ongoing debate about the power differentials shaping the relations between artists on the continent and donors in the global North. In how far contemporary artistic practice is also shaped by as well as contributing to social differentiation and new inequalities within African societies, by contrast, has not received much attention so far. Focusing on contemporary dance pieces by West African choreographers staging the intimacy of urban women’s life-worlds, my paper examines how these performances relate to the transformation and stratification processes of local societies. Following Illouz (2008), I interpret the way in which such works are publicly exposing aspects of gender relations and sexuality that usually remain hidden to the public as adoption of a ‘global emotional habitus’ (ibid.: 220). The latter marks a form of social distinction characteristic for new urban middle classes. It is based on a ‘therapeutic’ model of communication that helps to cope with the increasing complexity and normative uncertainty of modern lives, while questioning traditional hierarchies and ideals of masculinity. I argue that this habitus is part of the competences characterizing the professional community of contemporary choreographers who have ‘made it’ on international stages and reflects the values of a specific middle class cosmopolitanism brought forward in their work.

Paper 4

Neveu Kringelbach Hélène / University of Oxford

“Marrying out” for love: middle-class women’s narratives of polygyny and alternative marriage choices in Senegal

This contribution examines the ways in which youth experiences of living in polygynous households shape the life aspirations and marriage choices of middle-class, Muslim Senegalese women. In contrast to an enduring popular discourse according to which Senegalese women live happily with polygyny, this paper shows how some Senegalese women’s choice to marry European men is explicitly linked, in many cases, to family narratives and personal experiences of polygyny. In these narratives, women’s suffering and compromised educational trajectories are interpreted as consequences of polygyny.
Anthropological studies of polygyny in Africa have analyzed the institution from the perspective of a dominance of elder over junior men, as a domestic mode of production or through African ideals of sexuality and reproduction. Polygyny is thus examined as a coherent system, and people’s experiences are rarely taken into account. This paper departs from these analyses by looking at women’s experience and agency in the domain of sexuality, intimacy and family. I suggest that the women’s narratives serve to provide moral legitimacy to alternative marriage choices, and to act as mark of differentiation as educated, modern citizens. The paper draws on fieldwork in urban Senegal since 2002 and on interviews carried out with Senegalese women and their family members in Senegal, France and the UK since 2011.

Paper 5

Edoh Amah / M.I.T.

Dressing the body, picturing luxury: Dutch Wax cloth advertising campaigns and imagining “The New Africa”

This paper discusses the conception and production of an advertising campaign for Dutch Wax cloth (“wax hollandais”)—a variety of the textile colloquially known as “African print” or “pagne.” Designed and manufactured in Holland for West and Central African markets since the late 19th century, Dutch Wax cloth has long been integrated in processes of social reproduction in these regions. In Togo, for instance, the cloth is regarded as part of Togolese cultural heritage, and is historically worn and gifted to celebrate births, weddings, funerals, and other important occasions.

As part of efforts to rebrand itself from a fabric manufacturer for Africa to a global luxury brand, the Dutch Wax cloth manufacturer, Vlisco, started launching four collections annually in 2006, each with a coordinated print, television, and web-based advertising campaign. The glamorous images feature black female models showcasing elaborate fashion looks cut from Dutch Wax cloth, in poses reminiscent of couture campaigns. This paper examines one such advertising campaign, analyzing its images and how they are brought into being. Based on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork tracing a collection of Dutch Wax cloth from design to advertising to selling and using–from Holland to Togo–the paper considers the mise-en-scène of dress and the body in Vlisco’s imaging and imagining of luxury for Africa.

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