Naked Agency

Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa

Naked Agency

Theory in Forms

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Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: March 2020

African Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Across Africa, mature women have for decades mobilized the power of their nakedness in political protest to shame and punish male adversaries. This insurrectionary nakedness, often called genital cursing, owes its cultural potency to the religious belief that spirits residing in women's bodies can be unleashed to cause misfortunes in their targets, including impotence, disease, and death. In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate analyzes these collective female naked protests in Africa and beyond to broaden understandings of agency and vulnerability. Drawing on myriad cultural texts, from social media and film to journalism and fiction, Diabate uncovers how women in Africa and beyond create spaces of resistance during socio-political duress, including such events as 2011 protests by Ivoirian women in Côte d’Ivoire and Paris, as well as women's disrobing in Soweto to prevent the destruction of their homes. Through the concept of naked agency, Diabate explores fluctuating narratives of power and victimhood to challenge simplistic accounts of African women's helplessness and to show how they exercise political power in the biopolitical era.


“This is an expansive, but nuanced, and thought provoking study of female nakedness as political intervention around Africa. Naked Agency offers a rich analysis of the many potential meanings of defiant disrobing as a signifying shorthand, in relation to questions of agency within, but also potentially outside an African context.” — Moradewun Adejunmobi, coeditor of Routledge Handbook of African Literature

“Bringing new insights to discussions of biopolitics and subjectivity, Naminata Diabate explores African women's naked protests to illuminate the contradictory nature of women's agency and the paradox of aggressive disrobing as a counter to globalization that depends on the globalized meaning of state power. She also makes a strong case for avoiding the problems found in most writings on African women of seeing women as either victims or heroic agents while doing an especially great job of exposing the double-edged nature of secularization in the postcolonial world.” — E. Frances White, author of Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Naminata Diabate is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Exceptional Nakedness
Section I. Restriction
Scene 1. Exceptional Conditions and Darker Shades of Biopolitics
Scene 2. Dobsonville and the Question of Autonomy
Section II. Co-operation
Scene 3. Africanizing Nakedness as (Self-)Instrumentalization
Scene 4. In the Name of National Interest
Scene 5. Film as Instrumental and Interpretive Lens
Section III. Repression
Scene 6. Secularizing Genital Cursing and Rhetorical Backlash
Scene 7. Epistemic Ignorance and Menstrual Rags in Paris
Scene 8. Mis(Reading) Murderous Reactions
Epilogue: Defiant Disrobing Going Viral
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0688-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0615-2
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