sexuality, culture and politics: a South American reader
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This first-of-its-kind collection makes a huge amount of top quality, contemporary Latin American scholarship on sexuality accessible to an English-speaking readership. In a field long dominated (to foreign readers) by foreign scholars, it is long overdue. Latin Americanists, feminists, LGBT and queer studies scholars have here a new kind of entryway to a now established literature, which is incredibly rich in its concerns. Across the forty chapters, sexuality is articulated in an exhaustive way: as a basis for rights appeals, a mode of subjectivity, a lens for reading culture and an incidental characteristic of ethnographic inquiry.
Many of the now established stars of Brazil’s post-2000 explosion of sexuality and gender studies are contributors (for example, Sérgio Carrara, Regina Facchini and Maria Luiza Heilborn), whilst an impressive range of emerging scholars are also given space in the collection. Readers looking for an inclusive range of Latin American country case studies may be disappointed (but Brazilianists delighted). Collated and published with the support of the Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights (CLAM), housed in Brazil, well over half of the forty chapters have an exclusive or primary focus on Brazil. Case studies are also included on Colombia, Argentina, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom, whilst several contributors focus on international developments and region-wide trajectories.
The text spans a diverse range of disciplines across the social sciences and, to a lesser extent, the humanities (ranging from political science, psychology and sociolinguistics to law, history and theology). However, sociology and social anthropology form the bedrock of the volume. While the canon of anthropological studies of sexuality in Brazil (Gilberto Freyre, Ruth Landes, Roger Bastide, Peter Fry, Richard Parker, etc.) at times gives a common signature to theory-building, various contributors also rework, move beyond or simply discard some of the more established models in this literature (for example, active/passive sex roles and the exoticisation and sexualisation implied in the colonial gaze). Overall, significant emphasis is placed on forging agentic approaches to research and writing, the multiple nature of inequalities and forms of resistance, and the importance of inductive, thickly descriptive methodologies. In an increasing trend in the literature in general (and reflecting the stellar status of various contributors here), cross-referencing is also common throughout the text. Feminist interactions and disputes with Foucauldian approaches are, with good reason, elaborated by editors at the outset.
Feminist concerns and approaches run throughout the collection as a whole and are explicitly at work in a considerable number of contributions, often from a thoughtful, intersectional perspective. Claudio Fonseca (Chapter 23), for example, explores the revelation of the exotic (‘they’) as the mundane (‘not very different’), in the process of her conducting ethnographic research amongst sex workers in Porto Alegre. Martha Celia Ramírez-Galvez (Chapter 12) argues for the importance of recognising men’s narratives and experiences of abortion, and not just as a ‘strategic’ goal for feminist interventions. Christiane S. Cabral (Chapter 13) examines narratives of adolescent male paternity—its rejection as well as its embrace—as a way of negotiating transitions to adulthood in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Mara Viveros Vigoya and Franklin Gil (Chapter 31) explore the persistence of racial logics in advertising campaigns, to encourage women in Colombia to take charge of contraception. Patricia Tovar (Chapter 36) blends autobiography with historical research on the medicalisation of women’s bodies, to forge a powerful critique for a feminist gynaecology. Chapters covering reproductive rights, contraception, power hierarchies in male/female sexual roles and abortion—in a region characterised by illegality and clandestinity—are also included.
Reflecting the field in general, the collection also embraces some divergent standpoints on feminism, gender and sexuality. Camila Esguerra (Chapter 19), for example, explores the negotiation of conflicts amongst radical lesbian feminist activists in Colombia in the context of marginalisation by mainstream feminist and gay rights movements (and, for instance, references Sheila Jeffrey’s work). The next chapter, from Anna Paula Vencato, examines the formation, codes and expressions of male cross-dressing subcultures in various arenas, including online BDSM communities and trans rights activism. Artful pairings also appear to be at work in other places in the volume, and such clashes are explicitly addressed at various points. Maria Filomena Gregori (Chapter 22), for example, reflects back on the Anglophone ‘sex wars’ literature in light of her ethnography of ‘sex positive eroticism’ in a San Francisco sex shop. Meanwhile, Adriana Piscitelli’s exploration (Chapter 24) of women’s agency in negotiating international sex tourism also provides tools for situating feminist clashes in a global (South) perspective.
Overall, the text should be of major use as a teaching tool for students new to topics of culture, gender and sexuality in Latin America, and constitutes a fresh interface for researchers to engage more fully with the Portuguese and Spanish literature.