Transgressive Sex and Provocative Comfort in the French Colonial Archives

Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:50 PM
Mercury Rotunda (New York Hilton)
Jennifer Anne Boittin, Pennsylvania State University
When sex surfaces in the French colonial archives it is often as a provocative act.  Violent, paid or interracial, women’s sex destabilized the hierarchies and order of the Empire.  But was sex always about transgression?  Inspired by the letters preserved in archives and exchanged between women in French West Africa and male colonial administrators, this intervention into the roundtable considers how the rigid condemnation of transgressive intimacies was reshaped by some women.  It considers how close readings of these women’s letters, inspired by the tools and theories of gender studies, mobility studies and cultural analysis can help us to better understand when, why and how women turned sex into a prosaic act, not by obfuscating their own pleasures or sexualities but rather by rewriting them as just one component of their daily lives.  In turn, this presentation wonders how reading such intimacies against the grain might provoke scholars to rethink the nature of the hierarchies and order of imperial spaces.
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