Conference on Writing African Women – Poetics and Politics of African Gender Research
Conference at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa, 19–22 January 2005
The conference is organized in the context of the Sexuality, Gender and Society in Africa programme at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden. The aim of this three-day conference is to facilitate discussion on a range of subjects relating to the critical study of gendered subjects, relationships and discourses in Africa. The conference seeks to address two main obstacles to critical gender research in the contemporary African political and academic environment: On one hand, the conference will critically confront the growing backlash against feminism in contemporary Africa, a backlash associated especially with a resurgence of traditionalism and the argument that feminism is un-African. On the other hand, by drawing on critical theories and interdisciplinary approaches, papers will challenge the predominance of atomised and sector-specific gender work that is being actively encouraged by neo-liberalism, the hegemony of Gender-and-Development paradigms and donor prescriptions.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER IN ACADEMIC AND POPULAR KNOWLEDGE
The prominent traditional/modern cleavage in much of African gender research may be attributed to the mutually constitutive nature of academic and popular discourses. The conference aims to take a critical and careful look at the complicity of researchers and informants respectively in the ongoing construction of academic and cultural knowledge, and social practices of gender. How are these parts interconnected discursively and practically? What are the implications of power imbalances between the different players? How has gender been constructed in the ‘long conversation’ between missionaries, colonial administrators and local men and women? How did men and women in pre-colonial Africa think about gender – if they thought in those terms at all? Which cultural discourses on gender have been appropriated in specific historical, social and geographical locations, which have been appropriated piecemeal and which have been rejected? How is gender currently constituted in the discourses used by states, donors, religious representatives, civil society organizations etc – and by ‘grass root’ men and women? Which are the lessons from feminist re-interpretations of ‘tradition’? Also in the context of this theme we would like to see some critical attention directed at the parts played by applied social science approaches to constructions of gender, such as Gender-and-Development studies or medical anthropology.
This theme aims to explore the multiplicity of identities in the historical and contemporary African experience. Historically, how has gender been constituted and how is it currently mediated in relation to other forms of identity? What are the connections between subjectivities, multiple cultural discourses and gendered identities in specific social situations? Recent feminist research, in the wake of the criticisms of early feminist writings that universalised gender, has focused increasingly on the contextual ways in which gendered identities and relations are played out. How do, in these contexts, issues of power come into play? How is it possible in studies of multiple identities to take not only discourses, but also embodied practices into consideration? By exploring discussions on, among other subjects, masculinities, gay and lesbian identities, heterosexism, and the social and discursive constructions of gendered identities within different sites and through a range of social and cultural practices, the conference aims to generate debate about what ‘gender’ in African and other contexts means.
REVISIONING GENDERED KNOWLEDGES
Fresh critical interest in African women's writing and cultural production, and the growing interest in the politics and imaginative force of this production present important challenges in terms of investigating how women's knowledges can contest power. To what extent have, for example, theatre and oral performance, fiction and artwork, as well as African women's traditional forms of cultural expression (e.g. oral poetry) provided knowledge that talks back to dominant discourses? How do audiences engage with gendered meanings in different cultural texts (such as soap opera or romance fiction) and create subversive knowledges that read against the grain of dominant gendered meanings? In what way does everyday cultural behaviour, manifested, for example, in cooking practices, dress styles, the performative codes of African youth subcultures etc, work to unsettle dominant discourses of gender, and to constitute sites for exploring marginal forms of knowledge? This theme aims to explore the visionary and imaginative power of marginal knowledges, as expressed in social practices as well as in cultural production.
Signe Arnfred, Nordic Africa Institute
Heike Becker, University of Western Cape, South Africa
Desiree Lewis, Cape Town, South Africa
Signe Arnfred (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Karolina Winbo (email@example.com)