Workshop on Queer Rights in Uganda (November 2010)

Organized in collaboration with the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies (IFLS)

Presentation by Professor Rahul Rao (SOAS)

Discussants will include: Sonia Lawrence, Craig Scott, François Tanguay-Renaud, Stu Marvel, Jennifer Hyndman, Bruce Ryder, Obiora Okafor, Sean Rehaag, and others

Thursday, November 11, 2010 : 12:30pm – 2:00pm

Location: Ross, South 805
Refreshments will be served

Controversies over the legitimacy of queer identities and rights in postcolonial societies have tended to feature a discursive battle in which homophobic conservatives insist that queers are culturally inauthentic, and queer activists respond that it is institutional homophobia that has been imported via colonial discourses of law, medicine and literature. Whilst advancing diametrically opposed political positions, both sides in this dispute participate in a politics of nativism, in which that which is foreign has no place in the postcolonial community, and more broadly in a politics of essences, in which homosexuality is located or fixed in particular places, so that particular attitudes towards sexuality come to be marked as defining the essence of what it means to belong to those places. Professor Rao argues that a politics of essences is both analytically disingenuous and normatively dangerous. He suggests, in line with recent work in geographical theory, a move towards a politics of encounters in which places have no unchanging essence and ‘do not exist outside the processes, flows, and relations that create, sustain, or undermine them’ (David Harvey). Building on field research conducted in Uganda this summer, Professor Rao attempts to operationalise an understanding of the institutionalisation of homophobia in Uganda in relation to two encounters between Uganda and the West, in the late 19th and early 21st centuries.

Professor Rao’s short presentation on this work in progress will be followed by a longer moderated discussion among workshop participants.

Rahul Rao is a Lecturer in International Relations at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London.