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Unruly's thesis project

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Picture taken in Kinshasa by the author during a participant observation in a civil society talk.
September 2023.

As part of the Unruly project, Aline Nanko Samaké is carriying out her doctoral research on issues of what she has – tentatively – termed 'dissident sexualities' and their (political, social and economic) inscription in the urban fabric of Kinshasa and Abidjan.

This work complements the Unruly project by looking at what 'public' spaces mean to people who have to play on different registers of (in)visibility to enable livability in urban spaces because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. 

Keep reading for more information. 

Picture taken in Abidjan by the author during a participant observation in a public market.
November 2023.

Historically, social norms and state rule control sexual identities and practices, but also their various modes of expression in urban spaces. The politics of regulating bodies – in both their social and biological dimensions – most strongly affect those that are seen as deviating from commonly accepted heteronormativity.

 

By concentrating different people, interests and activities but also the power relationships associated to these different entities, cities function as preferred spaces for socio-political models' (re)production. These models give rise to urban spaces that are more or less hostile to people on the basis of their gender and/or sexuality. Spaces of exclusion of sexual dissidents and coextensive spaces of resistance are behind a moral geography that this thesis will question from African urban rapid extension that public authorities and governments both struggle to regulate.

Aline Nanko Samaké's work focuses on how marginalised people and communities experience everday life, state power, and access to urban ‘public’ spaces very differently depending of their social caracteristics - among  which sexual orientation and/or gender expression. The primary theoretical goal of this thesis is to uncover to what extend urban inequalities impact sexual dissidents' right to the city - i.e urban resources, water, housing, land, or urban transport - but also their urban subjectivty - i.e ways of being, loving and thinking (in) the postcolonial city.

Côte d'Ivoire and DRC share an ambiguous legal contexts where there is no condemnation of LGBT+ identities, but where some practices are relegated to the private sphere to respect the legislation on indecent exposure, unnatural practices and good moral standards. As a result, people with non-normative sexualities have to play on different registers of (in)visibility to enable livability in the city. This occurs through developing an inventive and pragmatic way of urban space and time (re)appropriation that shapes the environments in which sexual dissident exist and move around (e.g. strategic choice of location for establishments, code-swifting between night and day, use of a language reserved for the initiated, etc). 

 

This reflection on subaltern urbanities in Africa would be done through a threefold reflexive movement between fomation of the (postcolonial) state, urban spaces and sexual dissidence by documenting heuristic tensions that exist between a multiplicity of individuals having different everyday spatio-temporal, material, corporeal and discursive uses of the urban.

Guilty Pleasures in Postcolonial City:
Thinking about Sexual Dissidence from Urban Spaces of Abidjan & Kinshasa

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Lightswitch.

Dineo Seshee Bopape.

Exhibition Critically Queer.

Much of what we know about places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Côte d’Ivoire is heavily dominated by western narratives initiated and circulated by scholarly work, media outlets, social media and (inter)national institutions, which still depict African societies and politics through essentializing discourses of state weakness, fragile cities, poor governance, unbridled sexuality, and other serious ailments. Here, the cities of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) have long been emblematic of these narratives.

These case studies provide an opportunity to explore alternative approaches and epistemologies from new centres of knowledge production - in this case, two post-colonial African cities marked by recent conflicts, major urban and demographic expansion, and strong inequalities giving rise to various social demands, including those relating to identities.

Exploring reciprocal relationships between Dissident Sexualities, Urban Spaces and the Postcolonial State

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Research Questions

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Analytical Dimensions

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Methods

The feminist, decolonial and queer critical ambitions of the thesis must be reflected in a coherent methodological arsenal that constitutes less a 'way of conducting an inquiry' but rather as a political process ; a 'space' in which power relations over the place of speech in the production of knowledge and ethical questioning are played out (Tamale 2011).

This thesis project therefore seeks to highlight the links between the materiality of urban built space and the immateriality of social, cognitive and intersubjective relations. In order to make (literally) visible the way in which spaces and bodies are governed and controlled, but also produced and subverted, the methodological tools mobilized ethnographic methods (such as participant observation and in-depth interviews) but also participatory visual methodologies (including participatory mapping, photovoice and the capture of street scenes and the urban physical environment).

These methods will be operationalized during one year of fieldwork (6 months in Kinshasa and 6 months in Abidjan) spread over the period from spring 2023 to summer 2025.

Picture taken in Abidjan by the author during a participant observation at a Drag Queen contest. November 2023.

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