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Reviewed by:
  • Readings in Gender in Africa
  • Claire Robertson
Readings in Gender in Africa. Ed. Andrea Cornwall. Oxford: James Currey; Bloomington: Indiana University P, 2005. vii + 247 pp. ISBN 0-85255-871-6 paper.

Readings in Gender in Africa edited by Andrea Cornwall is a thoughtful selection of articles on gender, primarily concerning women (79%), secondarily on masculinity (14%), and lastly on men and women (7%). All but three of the articles were previously published. There is a judicious mix of 1970s articles by Bolanle Awe, Josephine Beoku-Betts, Iris Berger, and Janet Bujra with key 1980s work by Susan Geiger, Niara Sudarkasa, and Megan Vaughan, 1990s offerings by Jean Allman, Victoria Bernal, Caroline Bledsoe, Timothy Burke, Barbara Cooper, LaRay Denzer, Felicia Ekejuiba, Deborah Gaitskell, Rudolf Gaudio, Jane Guyer, Nancy Rose Hunt, Nakanyike Musisi, Kenda Mutongi, Obioma Nnaemeka, Richard Schroeder, and newer work by Aili Mari Tripp, Katherine Wood, and Rachel Jewkes, Stephan Miescher, Lisa Lindsay, David Mills, and Richard Ssewakuryanga. As is suitable for the subject, the contributors come from many disciplines, predominantly anthropology and history, with sociology, women's studies, political science, medicine, geography, and development studies. Although Cornwall's choices well represent an exciting and changing field, they are not comprehensive due to the growth of the field of African gender studies.

Among so many only a few can be mentioned here; I will focus on the new work made available here beginning with Cornwall's introduction. She focuses on gender studies, on "the production of difference and the negotiation of relational identities" (3), which are highlighted in the first two sections. The five sections concern representations of gender, constituting gender identities, "livelihoods and lifeways," religion and culture, and governance. A useful historiographical analysis of the literature is included in each section with good insights such as that neither "Western" nor "African" feminisms are monolithic, and on the problematic nature of the term "traditional" as applied to African religions. Her review and critique summarize nicely the state of the field as of about 2000 (why is the publication date 2005?). Cornwall is most assured and interested in dealing with the contestation and ambiguities of gendered identities. I have not seen a better attempt to analyze what has become a vast and intriguing literature.

The three new pieces all analyze aspects of masculinities, strongly influenced in two cases by Judith Butler's insights and in the last case by R. W. Connell's work. Mills and Ssewakuryanga's piece is an interesting analysis of gender construction and relations among Makerere University students to show their imbrication with materialism. Their goal is to challenge the normalization and totalizing of gender roles in order to prevent the spread of AIDS. Lindsay's piece looks at masculinity in the context of colonial Yoruba railwaymen. Colonial and local notions of masculinity conflicted with respect to cooking and the family responsibilities of men, Lindsay argues, but some notions coincided or were transformed. Miescher looks at how male church officials in colonial Gold Coast negotiated conflicting notions of masculinity in Kwawu. Contra Fanon, Miescher argues that men did not develop fragmented selves but rather multiple context-specific identities. [End Page 138]

While the strength of this collection lies largely in its incorporation of new perspectives in gender theory into African studies, it also makes a very useful general text when supplemented by other perspectives.

Claire Robertson
The Ohio State University


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pp. 138-139
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