In the Image of a Woman: Spirited and Embodied Interpellations Along the Betsiboka River
Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
|Wednesday, March 8, 2017||10:00AM - 12:00PM||208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place|
My ethnographic dissertation project examines the subject formation of same-sex desiring and/or gender non-conforming male-bodied persons in rural and urban northwestern Madagascar (sarimbavy in Malagasy) through their participation in both spirit mediumship and MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) HIV/AIDS activism. The two are intertwined; the MSM activist organization in Madagascar, funded by international HIV/AIDS prevention NGOs, is formed through networks of spirit mediums. As such, HIV/AIDS projects committed to curbing the spread of the virus, particularly amongst the “vulnerable” MSM population, tend to unknowingly employ peer educators who are spirit mediums and/or who are familiar with that milieu. Relatedly, I’m concerned with the philosophical implications that emerge when individuals come to understand their gender/sexual alterity first and foremost through the foreign, human rights-based language of “MSM,” “LGBT,” and discourses of disease prevention in peer-educator led workshops (as opposed to indigenous models of sex/gender/sexuality). My work differs from most on MSM communities and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa in that I inquire into how international intervention into HIV/AIDS unwittingly works through the socio-spiritual networks in which sarimbavy are placed. My thesis also draws from feminist/queer historiographical methodologies to analyze how sarimbavy were studied by French colonial doctors at the fin-de-siècle alongside the development of the medical field of sexology. The narratives that emerged from these interactions were then published in European and North American medical journals. I ask how these histories resonate with contemporary intervention into sarimbavy bodies and their health given the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Seth Palmer is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology and the collaborative programs in Women and Gender Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies. Seth’s doctoral research examines the interface between same-sex desiring and gender non-conforming male-bodied subjectivities (sarimbavy in Malagasy) and tromba spirit mediumship in northwestern Madagascar. Seth’s dissertation is based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork that moved between a rural, riverine town and surrounding villages, a small regional port city, and the nation’s capital, Antananarivo, in order to conceptualize how sexed/gendered discourses on categories of personhood, sexological taxonomies, tromba spirits and sarimbavy spirit mediums, and MSM and HIV/AIDS-prevention activism flowed between seemingly disparate spaces. Seth has taught a course on the anthropological category of “spirit possession” in the Department of Anthropology (St. George) and will teach a course on reading and writing in gender studies in the Department of Women and Gender Studies (Mississauga) in the Winter 2017 semester.
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