Ambiguous Pleasures

Ambiguous Pleasures: Sexuality and Middle Class Self-Perceptions in Nairobi

Rachel Spronk
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 322
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcvh0
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  • Book Info
    Ambiguous Pleasures
    Book Description:

    Among both male and female young urban professionals in Nairobi, sexuality is a key to achieving a 'modern' identity. These young men and women see themselves as the avant garde of a new Africa, while they also express the recurring worry of how to combine an 'African' identity with the new lifestyles with which they are experimenting. By focusing on public debates and their preoccupations with issues of African heritage, gerontocratic power relations and conventional morality on the one hand, and personal sexual relationships, intimacy and self-perceptions on the other, this study works out the complexities of sexuality and culture in the context of modernity in an African society. It moves beyond an investigation of a health or development perspective of sexuality and instead examines desire, pleasure and eroticism, revealing new insights into the methodology and theory of the study of sexuality within the social sciences. Sexuality serves as a prism for analysing how social developments generate new notions of self in postcolonial Kenya and is a crucial component towards understanding the way people recognize and deal with modern changes in their personal lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-479-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Why, when discussing the lifestyles of young professionals, did Patrick and I come to talk about female circumcision – two topics that seem hardly related – within a few minutes? Why did Patrick express a different opinion about female circumcision when we discussed it in relation to sexual intimacy? This study sets out to answer these questions, and many like them. It is organized around two themes: how sexuality and issues of cultural belonging or identification are interrelated in the lives of young professionals in Nairobi; and how these young people experience these issues personally. Although the opening vignette of the book...

  5. Chapter I The study of sexuality
    (pp. 19-48)

    This study takes up the challenge set by Malinowksi: to analyse erotic encounters as a ‘fundamental factor in the scientific analysis of society’ (1982 [1929]: I) – in this case, of Nairobi society. I aim to analyse the intertwined discourses on cultural heritage, gender relations and sexuality, the varying directions that young professionals take in their intimate lives, and how these crossing points play out in their personal experiences. Before doing so, however, it is necessary to reflect on the development of research on sexuality in Kenya, and Africa, as this provides the departure point for this study.

    The study of...

  6. Chapter II Young professionals: EMBLEMS OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
    (pp. 49-96)

    This chapter addresses how changes in sexuality provide a link between young professionals and Kenya’s social transformations. I elaborate on this by providing a brief history of the social organization of sexuality from colonial times to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Placing young professionals in the context of social change in the twentieth century demonstrates how this group in part embodies the results of changes in gender, sexuality and culture. The lives of the group of young professionals reflect a continuum of transformation that began with their grandparents and parents. Each of these three generations has in its time...

  7. Chapter III Society in flames: sexuality in the context of AIDS
    (pp. 97-133)

    Phrases like the above quotation, about a society ‘overwhelmed by lust’, suggesting sexual chaos by invoking images of ‘rampant sex’, are not uncommon in Nairobi. Such comments exemplify the almost palpable sentiments that have come to characterize the ‘AIDS era’. The topic of sexuality is a hot issue that centres on discussions about sexual morality, practice and agency. Although sexuality has always caused explosive reactions, the course that the current debates take originates from specific responses to the AIDS epidemic. The presence and impact of AIDS has worked like a catalyst on the discussions about sexuality by linking HIV and...

  8. Chapter IV Ambiguous pleasures: SEXUAL DESIRE, CAREER, AND FEMININITY
    (pp. 134-178)

    Professional women between 20 and 30 years old see themselves as explorers of a ‘sophisticated’ lifestyle in Nairobi. An important aspect of this lifestyle is the appropriation of sexual desire and pleasure as part of a contemporary identity. The understanding of sex as a natural element of a person implies that women are encouraged to see sexual desire as part of their self. However, in the dominant discourse, female sexuality is perceived as non-existent before marriage. Women therefore need to appropriate the notion of sexual pleasure. This chapter elaborates on how they identify themselves as women; how that relates to...

  9. Chapter V Ambiguous pleasures: SEX, RICHES, AND MASCULINITY
    (pp. 179-225)

    Professional men between 20 and 30 years old see themselves as innovators of a new lifestyle trend in Nairobi. An important aspect of this lifestyle concerns how they relate to women as equals, whether they are colleagues, lovers or friends. As women move into traditionally male social roles such as professional experts, men are reassessing and sometimes reasserting their masculinity. They are experiencing new obligations and expectations and new ideas of male self-esteem. As will become clear, men’s gendered sense of self has to be constantly reaffirmed in the continuous assertion of being masculine enough. Whereas women are engaged in...

  10. Chapter VI Sign of the times: MEDIA AND THE THERAPEUTIC ETHOS OF ROMANTIC LOVE
    (pp. 226-266)

    What is the relationship between the films Sereti liked and her personal life? Why wasSave the Last Dancesuch a popular film? How did it affect the Nairobian public? Or how should we understand complaints by several women and men in this study that they have been ‘brainwashed’ by the idea of romantic love? Sereti’s narrative depicts a definable thread in the biographies of young professionals; it directs us to the core tensions they struggle with regarding the relation between sexuality and cultural belonging. Focussing on the experiences and practices of romantic love among young professionals, I will now...

  11. Chapter VII Conclusion: SEXUALITY AND ITS AMBIGUOUS PLEASURES
    (pp. 267-286)

    This study has aimed to bridge central debates in sexuality studies and African studies. It is part of a small but developing field of research on sexuality that seeks to correct the hegemonic trend of simplifying sex in Africa, de-erotizing it to an act devoid of meaning. In the Introduction I set out the challenge: how to understand the ways in which societal factors organize sex and sexuality; and finding out how these processes shape people’s self-perceptions and their experiences, even if sex itself is experienced as natural.

    As the historical reconfigurations of gender and sexuality coalesce in a particular...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-302)
  13. Index
    (pp. 303-310)