Accepted paper:

Sexuality rediscovered? Anthropology, heteronormativity, and the Western categorical imperative


Taylor Riley

Paper short abstract:

This paper is an analysis of the norms that govern both the lack and misrecognition of sexuality in anthropology, with a particular focus on heternormativity and Western norms of categorization, illustrating the significance of this absence and the issues with analysing sexuality within a Western vernacular.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropologists are meant to first and foremost answer to people, but as much as there is reflexivity and hyper-criticism practised, this goal can be marred by our pre-existing ontologies. Anthropology is a field that can dispel the myths that heternormativity enforces and is based on because of its intended purpose as a field that makes the researcher an observer and vessel of translation. But in practise, it rarely does. In 'rediscovering' sexuality, anthropology has maintained notable silences and where not silent, it has (mis)categorized sexualities to mirror the values of the Western profit economy. Even in attempts to listen to localized truths of sexuality and gender, we can advocate our own by default in our claims to knowing what 'freedom' should look like. No matter our intentions, if we see and study in the frame of rights as the answer to the unfulfilled desires of clear categories of people, we enforce the separateness of the heteronormative ideology and render invisible the people and subjectivities we are seeking to view and understand. I will emphasize the need for 'queer' and other perspectives to remedy these misconceptions with regards to intimacy, love, and kinship in particular. The examples I plan to use relate to my research focus on female same-sex sexualities in Africa. I assert that anthropological work can only be that: the study of human beings, if it can reflect the nuances of their lives, no matter how inconceivable they may seem, while understanding that even our best tools, like language, can sometimes fail us.

panel P058
Whatever is happening to the critical study of sexual and gender diversity in anthropology? (European Network of Queer Anthropology)