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Ambiguous Pleasures

Sexuality and Middle Class Self-Perceptions in Nairobi

Rachel Spronk

322 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-0-85745-478-2 $120.00/£85.00 Hb Published (May 2012)

ISBN  978-1-78238-530-1 $34.95/£24.00 Pb Published (October 2014)

eISBN 978-0-85745-479-9 eBook


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Reviews

“…an interesting and well-written book… a strong contribution to the scholarship of African sexualities and gender, due not least to its clear focus and methodological approach…I would recommend it to anyone interested in gender and sexualities in the African context.  ·  African Affairs

Throughout the book, Spronk develops a nuanced analysis of the ways in which sex and relationships are handled as topics of interest within the various forms of media that circulate in Nairobi…[Her] rich ethnographic insights mean that readers interested in sexuality in Africa and in postcolonial subjectivities in Africa more generally will find Spronk’s book a useful and rewarding contribution.  ·  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Rachel Spronk has written a well composed, highly interesting and maybe even path-breaking book… It is innovative in its focus on sexuality as bodily experience and implications for ‘the gendered sense of self’ of these young men and women [and] is also innovative in terms of methodology; first and foremost by its focus on a group of young professional men and women.”  ·  Signe Arnfred, Roskilde University

"Spronk’s theoretical take on this theme is seminal and challenging. She convincingly shows that a constructivist approach – emphasizing the social and historical construction of people’s practices and views on sex and sexuality – is highly relevant to understanding how people navigate their lives. But she emphasizes also its limitations because her informants’ insistence that the natural, bodily power of sexual feelings has to be brought in as well.”  ·  Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam

Description

Among both male and female young urban professionals in Nairobi, sexuality is a key to achieving a ‘modern’ identity. These young men and women see themselves as the avant garde of a new Africa, while they also express the recurring worry of how to combine an ‘African’ identity with the new lifestyles with which they are experimenting. By focusing on public debates and their preoccupations with issues of African heritage, gerontocratic power relations and conventional morality on the one hand, and personal sexual relationships, intimacy and self-perceptions on the other, this study works out the complexities of sexuality and culture in the context of modernity in an African society. It moves beyond an investigation of a health or development perspective of sexuality and instead examines desire, pleasure and eroticism, revealing new insights into the methodology and theory of the study of sexuality within the social sciences. Sexuality serves as a prism for analysing how social developments generate new notions of self in postcolonial Kenya and is a crucial component towards understanding the way people recognize and deal with modern changes in their personal lives.

Rachel Spronk is Assistant Professor at the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of Amsterdam. She has published on intimacy and middle class formation in Kenya, on methodological questions of sexuality research and on the bounds of poststructural approaches to understand how sex(uality) is experienced.

Subject: General Anthropology Gender Studies Sociology
Area: Africa



Contents

INTRODUCTION

  • Hip and ambitious in Nairobi
  • Conceiving sexuality
  • Interfaces of pleasure and anxiety
  • Structure of the book

PART I: THE STUDY OF SEXUALITY

Sexuality research in Kenya

  • Health approaches to sexuality
  • Sexuality research in the context of AIDS in Africa

The dynamics of sexuality: the focus of this study

  • Anthropology and sexuality
  • The social construction of sexuality, and its limits
  • Sex as embodied experience
  • Historicising sexuality

Methodological aspects of sexuality research

  • Researching sex and sexuality: research places and practices
  • Researching sex and sexuality: collection and validity of data
  • An unmarried with partner, non-Kenyan, white female young professional

PART II: YOUNG PROFESSIONALS: EMBLEMS OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION

Sexuality and societal transformations

  • Gender and sexuality in colonial times
  • Gender and sexuality in postcolonial times
  • Social transformation and moral anxiety

The young and ambitious in Nairobi

  • Classifying young professionals
  • Hesitations about ethnicity and issues of belonging
  • Living independently and single
  • Nightlife and dating

Young urban professionals and the formation of a contemporary identity

  • Explorers of a modern identity
  • Young professionals’ position towards customary ways of living
  • ‘Westernization’
  • Africanness
  • Conclusion

PART III: SOCIETY IN FLAMES: SEXUALITY IN THE CONTEXT OF AIDS

AIDS as a context of life

  • Africanist perspectives on AIDS and sexuality
  • Policies of the government and nongovernmental organizations
  • The definition of ‘risk groups’
  • The medicalization of sexuality
  • Christian perceptions of AIDS and sexuality
  • The remoralization of sexuality

Sexuality and contemporary lifestyles

  • AIDS as the disease of ‘immorality’
  • The public emergence of the intimate
  • Intimacy as part of lifestyle
  • Conclusion

PART IV: AMBIGUOUS PLEASURES: SEXUAL DESIRE, CAREER, AND FEMININITY

Female sexuality in Nairobi, Kenya and beyond

Pamela, Martha, Njeri, Tayiani and Dorcas

  • The importance of dating
  • ‘Playing hard to get’
  • To give and to receive sexual pleasure
  • Chastity and the realization of sexual pleasure
  • Boundaries of sexual pleasure

Between sexual allure and limited availability

  • Appropriating sexual pleasure
  • Sexual pleasure and conventional expectations
  • Communicating ambiguity
  • Embodying transformations
  • Conclusion

PART V: AMBIGUOUS PLEASURES: SEX, RICHES AND MASCULINITY

Male sexuality in Nairobi society, Kenya and beyond

Alex, Eric, Tom, Maurice and Ongeri

  • Men’s sexual début
  • Circumcision as constitutive to masculinity
  • Sex as a skill—being a ‘good lover’
  • Love in relation to sexual drive
  • Sex and having ‘arrived’

Moving between sexual prowess and restrained potency

  • Sexual desire as a physical craving
  • Balancing too much and too little sex
  • The waning dominant patriarchal ideology
  • Accommodating change
  • Conclusion

PART VI: SIGN OF THE TIMES: MEDIA AND THE THERAPEUTIC ETHOS OF ROMANTIC LOVE

Romantic love and the twin spheres of consumption and mass media

Representing romantic love: films, television and advertisements

  • Television
  • Advertising
  • The privileging of the image

The manifestations of romantic love: music

  • Practicing romantic love: dating
  • Practices of mediation: magazines
  • The therapeutic discourse on relationships

Sign of the times: imaginations and practices of romantic love versus ‘westernization’, or the perils of modernity

  • Conclusion

CONCLUSION: SEXUALITY AND ITS AMBIGUOUS PLEASURES

Researching sexuality in Africa

The pleasures and anxieties of sexuality

Middle-class lifestyles and self-perceptions

Sex and sophistication – self and embodiment

Bibliography
Index

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