The Birth of ‘New’ Materialism? Abortion and Southern African Women’s Writing

UntitledThe next seminar in our African Feminisms series will be a paper by Caitlin Stobie entitled “The Birth of ‘New’ Materialism? Abortion and Southern African Women’s Writing”. The seminar will take place on 27 February 2017 in the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI)  seminar room 1 at 5pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome.

Abstract

In her preface to Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing (1999), Zimbabwean author Yvonne Vera recalls a scene from Haile Gerima’s Sankofa wherein a pregnant woman’s corpse mysteriously gives birth after she is whipped to death (1). At the conclusion of her commentary, she returns to the theme of fertility by proclaiming that the authors of the collected stories are “witnesses, in that seemingly impossible birth” of African feminist fiction (5). Yet throughout Opening Spaces, it is the fear of maternity which recurs for those living in rural and urban environments previously colonised by the British ‘motherland’. Tracing tropes of abortion through selected stories written during the ‘birth’ of postcolonial southern African nations in the late twentieth century, this paper considers feminist responses to the shifting relationship between corporeal embodiment and political agency. The writers in this study focus on environments not as essentialised settings, but rather as interconnected and organic systems; creative forms which manifest in these stories include human, animal, vegetal, elemental or textual participants in ecosystems. In this respect, the writers appear to anticipate new materialist theories – particularly the concept of trans-corporeality, which states that human and more-than-human bodies are all enmeshed actors that constitute the environment (Alaimo 2010: 2). Paradoxically, however, they also trouble such purportedly ‘new’ theories by complicating the long history of environmental health and reproductive rights in post/colonial contexts. Illustrating how natural symbolism interacts with the artifice of narrative form, such fictions create spaces for complex, ambivalent perspectives on women’s agency to emerge.

About Caitlin Stobie

Caitlin Stobie1 small.png

Caitlin Stobie is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, where she is co-director of the Leeds Animal Studies Network. Her research interests include postcolonial ecocriticism, posthumanism and critical animal studies. She has been published, or has work forthcoming, in Green Letters (2017), Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (2017) and scrutiny2 (2016).

Jane Plastow: Stiwanism and Gendered Identities in Jinja (Uganda)

We are pleased to announce that Jane Plastow will open our next set of seminars on the theme of African Feminisms with a paper co-authored with Katie McQuaid, the abstract which may be found below.

The seminar will take place on Monday,  13 February 2017 at the Leeds Humanities Research (LHRI) Institute Seminar Room 1 at 5pm. All are welcome and entrance is free.

 

AbstractUntitled

This paper concerns the ethnographic and theatre-based work of Katie McQuaid and Jane Plastow in a working class district of Jinja, Uganda, over two years between 2014 and 2016. Working in the context of entrenched urban poverty alongside the community we sought to develop understanding of the shifting nature of gendered, intergenerational identities in an East African city and how men, women and youth navigate their daily realities and sustain their future aspirations. We are concerned here to explicate our changing understandings in relation to African and western feminisms, particularly Stiwanism, over the course of the work. 

We explore the relative silencing of women, culturally, educationally and structurally in this community, and how, combining ethnographic research and Frierean-inspired community theatre, we sought to open up spaces in which women felt confidence to participate, at first in single sex spaces,  and later in whole community debate, as equals with their men. The focus of the paper is on how we came to find an engagement with the concept of Stiwanism hugely useful in conceptualising our long term process of working alongside men and women in search of a ‘plentiude of praxis’: strengthening and promoting an urban community’s capacity to unite across social barriers in recognising systemic injustices and inequalities, and challenging these through community-led interventions in pursuit of common social justice outcomes. 

We conclude by raising our on-going issues with Stiwanism in relation to its capacity to envisage how men can be supported in challenging patriarchal practices, and how women can negotiate competing aspects of ethnic identity and modern aspiration, whilst simultaneously resisting essentialist narratives that confine their voices and activity.

About Katie McQuaid and Jane Plastow

Jane Plastow is primarily an Africanist with special interests in African theatre, African literature, education, development studies and politics. She is also concerned with women’s studies in Africa and worldwide with Theatre for Development. She has particularly strong links with East Africa and the Horn of Africa; especially Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, in all of which she has worked in recent years. Plastow also works as a theatre director, usually but not exclusively in the area of African theatre, and teach across a range of courses dealing with contemporary theatrical practice.

Katie McQuaid is an anthropologist currently working on the INTERSECTION project, researching intergenerational justice, environmental responsibility, climate change and sustainability in Uganda, combining social science and arts-based methods (fieldwork Jan-Nov 2015). Her wider work focuses upon violence, humanitarianism and human rights amongst refugees from violent conflict. She conducted two years’ ethnographic fieldwork in Uganda (2011-2012) with refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, considering how violence and human rights are experienced and articulated amongst those living within humanitarian regimes. This research explores the practice of Congolese human rights defenders and the complex persecution and marginalisation of sexual minorities.

Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition: Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney by Ruth Daly

6308201._UY200_The next Finding Africa seminar, hosted in association with the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), will be on 24 May 2016. Ruth Daly will present a reading of Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney in her paper titled ‘Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition’.

The seminar will take place on 24 May 2016 at 4pm in Seminar Room 1 of the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (physical address: 31-2 Clarendon Place, Leeds). Entrance is free and all are welcome. Continue reading

Writer in Residence: Margie Orford at the University of York

Margie Orford (John Tinley Writer in Residence) © Imke van Heerden
Margie Orford (John Tinley Writer in Residence) © Imke van Heerden

At the beginning of the summer term, the University of York welcomed the queen of crime fiction, Margie Orford, as a John Tinley Writer in Residence in the Department of English and Related Literature. In addition to running weekly writing workshops at York, Orford also gave lectures on “Writing Violence: Ethics and Aesthetics” at both York and Cambridge, lectures in which she explored the ubiquity of violence in the socio-political and her role as a novelist in South Africa. Citing the prevalence of crime, interpersonal and structural violence in South Africa, Orford argued that crime fiction, which only emerged as a genre after the transition, “seemed to offer a way to contain…fear and to make sense of the obliterating chaos of violence”. With regards to this, the crime novel functions as “a way of interpreting the society upon which it focuses its lens”. Her analysis thus revealed the “links between crime fiction and a liberal democratic order”. Continue reading

Furman and O’Connell on HIV/AIDS, Moral Responsibility, and South African Literature (Rescheduled for 1 June 2015)

hiv-aids Finding Africa is pleased to announce that the theme for the next seminar in the Philosophy and Literature stream will be HIV and AIDS. Katherine Furman, from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences will tackle the controversial question, “Is Thabo Mbeki Morally Responsible for his AIDS Denialism?” Furman’s paper will be followed by a presentation by Dr. Gráinne O’Connell from the University of Sussex on “‘Post-AIDS’ Futures, Global Health Governance and Representations of HIV and AIDS in Post-Apartheid Literary Fiction”. The seminar will take place on 1 June 2015 at 5.30pm in The Treehouse at the University of York’s Berrick Saul Building. The event is both free and open to all. Continue reading

Richard Stupart to speak on Compassion Fatigue, the ‘CNN Effect’ and the Need for Better Media-Humanitarian Theory

Richard Stupart
Richard Stupart (Universität Erfurt)

The next seminar in the Journalism and Media Studies stream of Finding Africa will be presented by Richard Stupart from Universität Erfurt, Germany.

Stupart is a freelance photojournalist, researcher, writer and videographer with a particular focus on the intersection between narratives of Africa and development assistance. He previously completed an MA analysing the understandings present in coverage of the 2011/12 Somalia famine, and is currently studying towards a second Masters in Public Policy and conflict at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at Universität Erfurt.

Stupart’s current academic interests include the intersection of media and development, data gathering/processing in conflict areas, and the effects of violence and representation on legitimacy. Stupart also writes at his own blog, richardstupart.com, and has contributed work to CNNGo, Matador Network, Timeline, Good Men Project, City Press (South Africa) and other assorted publications on topics ranging from    travel to aid, voluntourism and race.

Continue reading

Brendon Nicholls

University of Leeds
Brendon Nicholls

Brendon Nicholls lectures in the School of English, University of Leeds. He is the author of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Gender, and the Ethics of Postcolonial Reading (Ashgate, 2010) and Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People (Routledge, 2011). He is currently working on a monograph titled Africas of the Mind: Environmental Psychoanalysis and Black Spirit Vernaculars.

In addition to research and teaching, Nicholls also serves on several editorial boards of various scholarly journals. For more information, click on his University of Leeds profile.