Comparative Colonialisms, Sexualities and Genders in the International Review of Sociology (Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos and Matthew Waites)
Comparative Colonialisms, Sexualities and Genders in the International Review of Sociology (Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos and Matthew Waites)

Comparative Colonialisms, Sexualities and Genders in the International Review of Sociology (Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos and Matthew Waites)

Our recent article in the Revue Internationale de Sociologie: International Review of Sociology suggests the journal is opening up as a forum for global sociological analyses of different kinds. The article is titled ‘Comparative colonialisms for queer analysis: comparing British and Portuguese colonial legacies for same-sex sexualities and gender diversity in Africa – setting a transnational research agenda’ (Gomes da Costa Santos and Waites, 2019); and it focuses on the African social contexts of Kenya and Mozambique, as constituted in relation to the imperial nations of the United Kingdom and Portugal.  We are concerned to analyse racist colonialisms with reference to recent postcolonial and decolonizing analyses, in exploring new aspects of sexuality and gender.  More particularly, the title of the article indicates our engagement with queer analysis, which problematises the social privileging of heterosexuality. However, the content is more concerned with exploring the specific social forms of gender and sexualities that have existed in Kenya and Mozambique—including among specific racialized and ethnic groups.

The article presents an argument for the value of comparative analysis between colonialisms in relation to same-sex sexualities and gender diversity, through demonstration. Existing research by Waites, including in the volume Human Rights Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change (Lennox and Waites, 2013), had shown the extensive role of the British Empire in criminalising same-sex sexual acts through legal prohibitions, with persistent effects.  This begged questions about how other empires have employed lesser or different forms of regulation.

We thus selected Mozambique and Kenya as contexts for historical sociological comparison.  Mozambique was of particular interest, in light of it being a rare African case of decriminalisation of same-sex sexual acts, in 2015. We wanted to see whether historical sociology could shed light on this distinctiveness. In Kenya, by contrast, criminalisation of same-sex acts through a colonial inheritance persists—despite legal challenges.

The methodology deployed to develop comparative analysis involves a substantial account of each context, followed by more detailed exploration of relevant features concerning sexuality and gender.  The sections on Mozambique and Kenya each have subsections on legal and social forms of regulation, to ensure each is examined. Regarding Mozambique, we argue for example that the Portuguese imperial-nation’s deference to the Catholic Church as a provider of education, and the racist ideology of civilization through work rather than education that informed schooling, implied—somewhat paradoxically—relatively little influence of moral prohibitions against homosexuality.  Regarding Kenya, we present original evidence from the colonial ‘blue books’ of statistics to show that prosecutions applied more to European populations than to African indigenous people (where the British recognised ‘customary law’); while also highlighting new evidence on divergent indigenous forms of regulation.

Our concluding analysis discerns three differences of particular interest.  First, differences over time: British legal criminalisation occurred in 1897, soon accompanied by a tightening of imperial moral regulation; whereas Portuguese colonialism only commenced such criminalisation from 1954, with growing post-war moral regulation from Salazar’s imperial New State.  Secondly, through examining transboundary processes we argue that relative to the direct and intended effects of imperial regulation, the indirect consequences of different schooling practices by Protestant Missionaries and the Catholic Church may have been more significant. Thirdly we argue that different racialized forms of scientific sexology influencing policy in the UK and Portugal may be a significant factor in explaining different chronologies of regulation.     

We argue strongly in this article for the need to pursue a new transnational research agenda for comparative analysis of colonialisms, which can inform contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) and queer forms of politics, and global sexuality and gender politics. We aim to pursue this in further work and hope others will also take this forward.

Read the full article here.

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