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Interracial intimacy in Africa: Afro-European couples, cross cultural transactions, and social changes in Islamic Zanzibar

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INTIMIZ (Interracial intimacy in Africa: Afro-European couples, cross cultural transactions, and social changes in Islamic Zanzibar)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-03-31

The project offers an innovative approach to the study of globalization. Built on a bibliography in anthropology, sociology and history, and a case-study in Zanzibar (Tanzania), the project examines the social and cultural dynamics that foster intimate relationships between European expatriates and Africans in contemporary Africa. The project pursues three objectives: 1) To document European migration to Africa. 2) To analyze the experience of Afro-European intimacy in Zanzibar. At the micro level, the project focuses on the dynamics of intimate transactions, whether economic, material or cultural. While the economic issue is currently at the heart of the anthropological understanding of interracial sexuality, little consideration is given neither to the role of love and desire in cross-cultural encounters, nor to the role of cultural transactions between partners. By paying particular attention to affects and symbolic transfers of knowledge, beliefs, values, skills, which characterize the course of intimate life, the project provides a unique view on socialization and on the role of intimacy in possibilities social ascent. 3) To investigate the changes in the local understanding of intimacy. At the macro level, the project traces the global dynamics that transform conjugality, sexuality, love, and gender roles in the Muslim society of Zanzibar. The project thus investigates the ways in which Islam informs sexual practices and ideologies of intimacy and gender, and how they are negotiated and transformed with the settlement of non-Muslim Europeans, and mixed marriages. At a societal level, by analyzing how people of different racial and religious backgrounds do engage in relationships, INTIMIZ also constitutes an original and effective means to combat racist prejudice.
Overall conclusions of the action:
- The project fueled theoretical discussions on various topics in anthropology (intimacy, women's migration, interracial and gender relations) and expanded the knowledge on East African Islamic societies. The scientific results of the project were disseminated both among the international and European community of researchers, and among the general public, through written articles and oral presentations.
- It provided training to the researcher in various ways (language skills, networking capacities, professional and management skills, audiovisual skills), expanding her career prospects in the academia and beyond.
- It fueled collaborations between European and African scholars, which have largely remained under explored in the field of social sciences.
- In challenging times of racism, the documentary project developed during secondment will be a major tool to promote tolerance, and build multicultural awareness among the general public.
Throughout the project, the researcher has achieved:
1. Ethnographic fieldwork in Zanzibar.
2. Organization of 2 international workshops leading to new scholarly collaboration in the field of African studies.
3. Submission of a Special Issue proposal following the workshop in Zanzibar).
4. Consistent participation in several graduate courses, seminars and workshops during the outgoing and return phases of the action.
5. Dissemination of the results through invited academic talks and workshops (US, France, Scotland), and the publication of an article for lay audiences.
6. Publication of one single-authored peer-reviewed article in top-tier academic journal. A monograph is also in preparation.
7. Training in scientific dissemination into TV media through the secondment at TSVP. Participation in the production of 3 anthropological documentary series. I worked on the scenario of a documentary project designed to disseminate INTIMZ results to lay audiences.
8. Participation in an exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum of Neuchâtel (Switzerland).
9. Training in Kiswahili language.
10. Undergraduate course "Power and sexuality in Africa" taught in Sciences Po Paris during the Fall Semester 2020-2021.
11. Participation in ERC Webinar and writing workshop and preparation of an ERC Consolidator Grant application for 2022.
(1) Based on a long-term analysis of the sexual and conjugal histories of interracial couples formed by European women and African men, the project offers an innovative approach to the socializing effects of intimacy. Drawing on the work on transactional sex and economic-sexual exchange, I define intimacy as a particular social configuration within which a set of goods circulates and is exchanged, which may be of an economic and material nature. I have shown that these intimate transactions also concern symbolic goods (beliefs, tastes, knowledge and know-how, political, religious and moral values, etc.) that can be transmitted and sometimes appropriated by the partners. Therefore, the intimate relationship is potentially a socializing relationship, likely to profoundly change the way one or the other partner thinks and acts.

(2) Through the case of interracial intimacy in Zanzibar, I also questioned the transformation of practices and representations of sexuality in the globalizing era. While work on sex tourism, transnational prostitution, or migration through marriage has focused on how the sexual market has become globalized, and how sexuality has become a key resource in strategies of international migration and social mobility, it has overlooked how these transnational intimate relationships also affect individuals themselves, and in particular their bodies and sexuality. To this regard, I have shown that, at the turn of the 21st century, Zanzibar experienced major social changes, partly due to the intensity of international mobility generated by tourism and expatriation in the archipelago. In a context where the norms of modesty usually require a certain restraint in the uses of the body and the expression of affects in interactions, the irruption of white women in tourist areas has put local spatial and moral orders under tension. The beach and the street have in fact become privileged places for flirting, and places of sociability for couples, leading to the irruption of sexuality within the public space.

(3) The case of interracial couples also shades light on the articulation of gender, class and race in the realm of conjugality. While some studies of couples formed by Western women and African men conclude that gender power relations have been reversed, the detailed ethnography of the conjugal life of these couples shows much more subtle power dynamics. I have shown, on the one hand, that despite the dominant position of women from an economic, cultural, and symbolic point of view (they are white, educated women from the upper middle class), their assets are in fact largely shared with men and appropriated by them in strategies of social ascent. On the other hand, I insisted on the ability of Zanzibari men to recompose the balance between the two traditional axes in the construction of male identity, namely economic power and sexual performance. While the economic power of Zanzibari men has suffered from capitalist globalization, sexual potency has become a key aspect of affirming masculinity. In this regard, intimate relations with white women constitute an opportunity for young men to perform a masculinity based chiefly on sexual potency, which is to say competition between men for access to women’s bodies on the one hand, and sexual expertise on the other hand.
Interracial intimacy at the beach (Zanzibar)