- Introduction:Denormativizing Imperatives in African Queer Scholarship
NOTIONS OF ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL GOOD: DEBATES AND DIRECTIONS
This critical forum grew out of a conference (New Directions in African Queer Studies) which was hosted at The University of Western Ontario in October 2016. While the conventions of the introductory essay dictate that I introduce and orchestrate a conversation among the articles, the subsequent reflections exceed those immediate parameters because I wish to provide a sense of the conference and how it refracts tendencies in the field. The conference's principal objective was to examine the interdisciplinary field of African queer scholarship and take note of its conceptions, practices, and theories. Of course, such conferences have previously taken place in different African countries and, as such, participants wanted to get a sense of doing African queer scholarship outside Africa.1 For collaborators based on the continent, it was an opportunity to begin a continental and outer-continental dialogue. Participants at the conference were acutely aware of the effects of institutional and [End Page 596] geographic distance from the continent even if they regularly visited for conferences or fieldwork.
The conference and this cluster represents how scholars conceptualize African queer scholarship and define its relations to its contingent larger fields such as African studies, queer studies, transnational sexuality studies, and African literary/cinema studies. Conceptually, there was a push to broaden the horizons of sexuality and gender studies within African studies and African literary studies. In terms of actual delivered papers, there seems to be a drive—extrapolated from primary texts—to redefine the meanings of good societies and the good life in African contexts and situate LGBTQ individuals or subjects with non-normative sexualities within them (see Taiwo 2011, 56; Ochieng 2016, 3–5). These tussles over the good society and the good life are readily evident in film, literature, and in social media debates. Transposed into academic contexts, the examinations of good societies and the good life appear as deliberations on good social practices in the academe and the deliberations on the responsibilities of academic and university communities in two arenas. First, they surface as interrogation of the complicity of African universities in denouncing LGBTQ communities and their silence and omissions in defending the rights of sexual minorities or in fostering the environment for exchanges on issues related to sexual minorities. Within African queer scholarship, debates on good social practices concern the uneven constitution of the field and the responsibilities of scholars toward globally dispersed African communities.
The conjunction of Africa and sexuality studies has long been subject to competing epistemic disarticulations such as arise whenever numerous parties converge on a research field "framed by multiple epistemic regimes" (Musila 692). Scholars work with fraught terms that incite debate: not only do they ask what Africa is and what constitutes sexuality across African societies, they must also respond to charges that the objects of their attention are un-African (see Livermon 2018). Consequently, African queer scholarship is perforce invested in critiques of afro-normativity and it contributes to the enunciation of African relations beyond the simple accident of geography. Researchers in African American studies have deployed afro-normative and afro-normativity to designate the critical awareness of race-based African American experiences and a critical vigilance against research bias that is incognizant of the specificities and variables that shape African American communities (Wilson and McCoy 2009). [End Page 597] Accordingly, afro-normative and afro-normativity carry positive valences for such African American-related research.
In Africanist circuits, Jordache Ellapen (2015) has used the terms to interrogate state-sanctioned constructions of normative African identities—as black and not brown—in post-apartheid South Africa, but the concept promises a critical purchase for parties invested in critiquing constructions and circulations of putatively proper African sexual identities across the continent. Thus, the terms define streams of nativism and conservative prescriptions of Africa and African culture. Denunciations of non-normative sexualities as un-African go hand in hand with a number of other conservative cultural and political positions. Even if the term is little known, critiques of afro-normativity in the sexual domain are not. As far back as the nineteen-sixties...