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Heterosexual Africa?

The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS

Marc Epprecht

Publication Year: 2008

Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS builds from Marc Epprecht’s previous book, Hungochani (which focuses expli citly on same-sex desire in southern Africa) to explore the historical processes by which a singular, heterosexual identity for Africa was constructed—by anthropologists, ethnopsychologists, colonial officials, African elites, and most recently, health care workers seeking to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This is an eloquently written, accessible book, based on a rich and diverse range of sources, that will find enthusiastic audiences in classrooms and in the general public.

Epprecht argues that Africans, just like people all over the world, have always had a range of sexualities and sexual identities. Over the course of the last two centuries, however, African societies south of the Sahara have come to be viewed as singularly heterosexual. Epprecht carefully traces the many routes by which this singularity, this heteronormativity, became a dominant culture. A fascinating story that will surely generate lively debate Epprecht makes his project speak to a range of literatures—queer theory, the new imperial history, African social history, queer and women’s studies, and biomedical literature on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He does this with a light enough hand that his story is not bogged down by endless references to particular debates.

Heterosexual Africa? aims to understand an enduring stereotype about Africa and Africans. It asks how Africa came to be defined as a “homosexual-free zone” during the colonial era, and how this idea not only survived the transition to independence but flourished under conditions of globalization and early panicky responses to HIV/AIDS.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

For this book I owe deep gratitude to a broad range of colleagues and activists going back over many years in the struggle for sexual rights in Africa, Europe, and North America. I have already acknowledged the many who facilitated the original field and archival work for my...


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p. xiii

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1.A Puzzling Blindspot,a Troubling Silence,a Strange Consensus

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pp. 1-33

HIV/AIDS was identified in Africa south of the Sahara in the mid- 1980s.1 At that time its rapid, atypical progress in populations focused considerable attention on so-called African sexuality. Scientists, theologians, pundits, gender activists, and other researchers were all struggling to explain both the unprecedented rates of HIV infection...

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2.The Ethnography of African Straightness

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pp. 34-64

Anthropologists played a central role in documenting the diversity of human sexuality as it is understood and expressed in different cultures around the world. Scholars in many other disciplines, including my own of history, are often heavily dependent on their...

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3. Ethnopsychiatry and the Making of Gay Shaka

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pp. 65-99

By the 1920s most colonial administrations had reason to take pride in their achievements. Overt African resistance had been almost entirely quelled and, indeed, hundreds of thousands of Africans served loyally in the military, the colonial police, and the increasingly...

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4.Slim Disease and the Science of Silence

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pp. 100-130

I have so far emphasized how scholarship that claimed to be scientific was in many cases scarcely more than self-serving prejudice. Bad or sloppy science in colonial and apartheid Africa thus often amply merited popular mistrust, particularly when the results were....

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5.Alternatives and Ambiguities

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pp. 131-159

So far I have traced how Western authors across a range of professional discourses contributed to the notion of an African sexuality that was almost exclusively determined by or structured around reproduction and family. In this view, same-sex sexuality, were it even conceded...

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pp. 160-172

I have shown key ways by which the idea of a uniformly heterosexual African identity came into being, was debated and, while somewhat changed over time, still persists in major venues in the face of strong evidence against it. Originally it was European authors who sought to lump all of Africa together according to perceived or preconceived sexual practices....


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pp. 173-186

Works Cited

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pp. 187-218


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pp. 219-231

E-ISBN-13: 9780821442982
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821417997

Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 636888503
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Heterosexual Africa?

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Homosexuality -- Africa -- History.
  • Gays -- Africa -- History.
  • Africa -- Social life and customs.
  • Africa -- Politics and government.
  • AIDS (Disease) -- Africa.
  • HIV infections -- Africa.
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