This article argues that homophobia should be read as a political engagement with social and economic uncertainty and its perceived causes through an extended analogy with the work on the modernity of witchcraft. “Figuration” is theorized as a way to account for, first, how senses of moral peril are given a human form, and second, why certain signifiers of deviance become more convincing than others at particular historical moments. The content of the myths that animate homophobia in Sierra Leone point to the gay man as a figuration of deviance that rehearses anxieties about illicit appropriation through patron‐client networks at a time of heightened awareness of corruption, exploitation, and fears of foreign meddling in the politics and economics of African postcolonies. The article makes the case that the homosexual man becomes a more convincing signifier of contemporary social anxiety than the witch because of his connections with Western modernity not only in the minds of Sierra Leoneans but also in global pro‐queer discourse. This insight places discourses about homosexuality more generally, whether positive or negative, in a field of contestation over who gets to speak for Sierra Leone, what the future of the country is, and its inclusion in Western modernity. The question of modernity is used to explain the state's marked irresoluteness on the subject of homosexuality, challenging dominant explanations of homophobia as state led.
Politics of the Poisoned Belly: Figurations of Deviance and the Modernity of Homophobia in Urban Sierra Leone
Renugan Raidoo is a lecturer in social anthropology at Harvard University. His current research focuses on race, liberalism, and urban inequality in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has previously taught at Brandeis University, and his writing has appeared in the journal Africa as well as in the edited volume Anxious Joburg: The Inner Lives of a Global South City.
Renugan Raidoo; Politics of the Poisoned Belly: Figurations of Deviance and the Modernity of Homophobia in Urban Sierra Leone. GLQ 1 June 2023; 29 (3): 387–413. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-10437250
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