HIV Prevention, American Homonationalism in LGBT Rights Talk, and the Making-Up of the Medicalized MSM Malagasy Subject

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Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 201710:00AM - 12:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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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.


CPHS Administrator


Seth Palmer
Health and Human Rights Fellow


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