Naked Agency

9781478006152: Hardback
Release Date: 28th February 2020

9781478006886: Paperback
Release Date: 6th March 2020

20 illustrations

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 272

Series Theory in Forms

Duke University Press Books

Naked Agency

Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa

Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women's political agency.
Hardback / £83.00
Please note that payment will be taken immediately. The book will be delivered to you when it is in stock, as per the publication date.
Paperback / £20.99
Please note that payment will be taken immediately. The book will be delivered to you when it is in stock, as per the publication date.

Across Africa, mature women have for decades mobilized the power of their nakedness in political protest to shame and punish male adversaries. This insurrectionary nakedness, often called genital cursing, owes its cultural potency to the religious belief that spirits residing in women's bodies can be unleashed to cause misfortune in their targets, including impotence, disease, and death. In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate analyzes these collective female naked protests in Africa and beyond to broaden understandings of agency and vulnerability. Drawing on myriad cultural texts from social media and film to journalism and fiction, Diabate uncovers how women create spaces of resistance during socio-political duress, including such events as the 2011 protests by Ivoirian women in Côte d’Ivoire and Paris as well as women's disrobing in Soweto to prevent the destruction of their homes. Through the concept of naked agency, Diabate explores fluctuating narratives of power and victimhood to challenge simplistic accounts of African women's helplessness and to show how they exercise political power in the biopolitical era.

Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction: Exceptional Nakedness  1
Section I. Restriction  
Scene 1. Exceptional Conditions and Darker Shades of Biopolitics  29
Scene 2. Dobsonville and the Question of Autonomy  43
Section II. Co-operation
Scene 3. Africanizing Nakedness as (Self-)Instrumentalization  65
Scene 4. In the Name of National Interest  89
Scene 5. Film as Instrumental and Interpretive Lens  107
Section III. Repression
Scene 6. Secularizing Genital Cursing and Rhetorical Backlash  131
Scene 7. Epistemic Ignorance and Menstrual Rags in Paris  149
Scene 8. Mis(Reading) Murderous Reactions  175
Epilogue: Defiant Disrobing Going Viral  191
Notes  197
References  219
Index  251

Naminata Diabate is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University.

“This is an expansive but nuanced and thought-provoking study of female nakedness as political intervention around Africa. Naked Agency offers a rich analysis of the many potential meanings of defiant disrobing as a signifying shorthand in relation to questions of agency within, but also potentially outside of an African context.”

Moradewun Adejunmobi, coeditor of
Routledge Handbook of African Literature

“Bringing new insights to discussions of biopolitics and subjectivity, Naminata Diabate explores African women's naked protests to illuminate the contradictory nature of women's agency and the paradox of aggressive disrobing as a counter to globalization that depends on the globalized meaning of state power. She also makes a strong case for avoiding the problems found in most writings on African women of seeing women as either victims or heroic agents while doing an especially great job of exposing the double-edged nature of secularization in the postcolonial world.”

E. Frances White, author of
Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability