University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > On folles, swageurs and other ambiançeurs; popular culture and queer extraversion in urban Congo

On folles, swageurs and other ambiançeurs; popular culture and queer extraversion in urban Congo

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As in many contemporary African cities, everyday life in urban DR Congo is very much affected by a quest for connection. Amongst young men, this continuous search for being branché is often embodied in daily public performances of cosmopolitanism that have become central to the redefinition of masculinity over the last decades. Moreover, claiming connection also often takes place in public performances of transgression that confirm one’s status in a demanding world in intergenerational opposition to older models of respectable masculinity. While these shifting gender dynamics have been described and analysed in recent scholarly accounts of youthful masculinity in contemporary Africa, their queer(ing) implications and possibilities often remain unnoticed in the field of African studies, which is still very much dominated by unspoken heterosexist assumptions that take for granted the always-already “straight” nature of gender-normative bodies and desires. This presentation illustrates how and why male same-sex desires occupy an ambivalent but fundamental position in contemporary urban imaginations and cultural registers, despite of (or, perhaps, because of) omnipresent homophobias. Through ethnographic vignettes taken from my on-going fieldwork in Kinshasa and Kisangani and through objects and images taken from popular culture, I will specifically highlight the queer affordances of what is usually referred to as “ambiance” in urban Congo. It is exactly within this morally ambivalent space of self-proclaimed libertarianism, often defined in dialectical opposition to the spaces of church and family, that erotically dissident men and boys engage with one another in often surprisingly visible ways. This space of ambiance, where performances of gender transgression and fashionable cosmopolitanism come together in fascinating ways, allows for a queer rethinking of the longue durée of extraversion that situates contemporary folles and swageurs in a longer genealogy of bills, sapeurs and other ambiançeurs in colonial and postcolonial urban Congo.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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