This past Fall, we were pleased to offer several grants to help support our students in sharing their research at the premiere conferences in their field. Below, Juliana Friend reflects on her experience in DC this past December.
What I presented: At the 2016 Annual Meetings of the African Studies Association, I presented a paper entitled: “Eroticizing Information, Bureaucratizing Desire: Digital sex-education Pedagogies in Kolda, Senegal.” This paper was part of the panel, The Politics of Exposure: Non-normative Sexualities and Queer Performance in Senegal, which I co-organized with Beth Packer, Doctoral Candidate at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)
In contrast to the widespread “bifurcation of risk and pleasure” in sex education programs worldwide (Cf. Parikh 2005), Senegal’s new state-sponsored Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) curriculum addresses sexual pleasure as part of its effort to prevent teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS in the stigmatized southern region of Kolda. My paper explored the particular notions of pleasure represented and enacted on CSE’s digital counterpart, www.clickinfoado.sn, as implemented in sex-ed classes in Kolda. The cartoons model how youth should approach digitally-mediated images of the body as pure, de-eroticised “information.” In lessons using these same cartoons, certain sex-educators crafted a different link between knowledge, erotics, and the digital. They conveyed that pleasure can be derived from digital communication alone; such that Senegalese youth can “know their bodies” (xam sa yaram, in Wolof) while remaining abstinent. I argued that the transformation of digitally-mediated pleasure into a site of bureaucratic concern must be understood in the context of “Senegalese Exceptionalism” (Cf. Diouf 2013), or Senegal’s longstanding effort to secure a privileged status in US Foreign policy and international aid. Public health officials perceive this status to be threatened by elevated HIV infection rates among “vulnerable populations” like teen girls and gay men. Pleasure-as-communication becomes a mode of transforming vulnerable subjects into empowered subjects, exceptions to exceptionalism into emblems of national progress. In tension with, but co-existing alongside, the “information is power” model of public health, the abstinent, digitally connected youth that “knows her body” is becoming a new figure of Senegalese Exceptioinalism, and a pivotal metaphor linking intimate aspects of life to broader sociopolitical relations.
Who I connected with: The conference provided an opportunity to engage with an interdisciplinary group of scholars from sociology, art history, African studies, and comparative literature.
What I learned: Comments on my paper pointed me to the deeper history of some of the archetypes portrayed in the online cartoons, going back to 1990s Wolof soap operas, which, like my sex-ed cartoons, feature the bourgeois female “truth teller” figure who embodies progress and links national pride to gender relations. i was also urged to think about sex-ed discourses — in particular, the call for young people to keep no secrets from their family — in relation to the robust literatures on secrecy in West Africa.
Future Collaborations: Along with my co-panelists and our discussant, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Ayo Coly (Dartmouth), I will be contributing an article to a collected volume on sexuality in Senegal for Lexington Books edited by Besi Muhonja and co-panelist Babacar Mbaye, under the series called Critical African Studies in Gender and Sexuality.