AuthorSkidmore-Hess, Cathy

Bernault, Florence. Colonial Transactions: Imaginaries, Bodies, and Histories in Gabon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020.

Diabate, Naminata. Naked Agency: Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa. Durham. NC: Duke University Press, 2020.

Hackman, Melissa. Desire Work: Ex-Gay and Pentecostal Masculinity in South Africa. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019.

Questions of gender, agency, and spirituality have been central to the practice of power within Africa. Similarly, the intersection of global, national, and regional structures creates perceptions that empower some and limit the agency of others. Florence Bernault's Colonial Transactions, Naminata Diabate's Naked Agency, and Melissa Hackman's Desire Work consider the importance of the spiritual universe, morality, and material concerns in relation to gender, globalism, nationalism, and agency. These works demonstrate the ways in which the spiritual universe and "imaginaries"--values, laws, symbols, and institutions--continue to shape the lives of people on the continent. Colonial Transactions historicizes witchcraft in Gabon by focusing on four congruent "imaginaries": transactions, kinship and affiliation, carnal fetishisms, and cannibalism. Naked Agency interrogates the political action of "defiant disrobing" Desire Work juxtaposes aspirations of agency with the force of desire. Through interviewing "exgay" men in South Africa's "gay capital" it offers insight into the men's efforts to conform to Christian heterosexual practices by transforming and sublimating their desires (5).

Networks of support, solidarity, and oppression feature heavily in narratives of resistance and co-optation. For those interviewed in Desire Work this takes the form of self-help groups, prayer, and meetings. In Naked Agency these networks are multiple and primarily female. In Colonial Transactions the relationship is one of exchange. While all works outline the importance of relationships, and the limits spiritual practice and global interaction place on individual choice, they still focus on questions of agency. Although agency is at the core of Colonial Transactions, Bernault finds it a clumsy term. She prefers the vernacular word ngul, which implies "force and talent, the capacity of a person to act successfully, and the power of mystical entities, such as spirits and ancestors" (3). In emphasizing ngul, Bernault reunites the spiritual and material to move beyond "the Western divide between human and nonhuman agency." Hence Colonial Transactions' central question becomes how "colonialism restructured the field of practical and mystical agency" (ix). Using Castoriadis's theory...

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