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Political Science and Sexuality

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“Understanding sexuality can help us understand politics,” S.N. Nyeck says. “It’s as true in America as it is in Africa.”

And it’s one thing that led the Clarkson political science professor to co-edit the new book Sexual Diversity in Africa: Politics, Theory and Citizenship.

“The collected essays in this book," she says, "critically discuss the connection between sexuality, politics and citizenship in Africa today. The multi-disciplinary collaboration between scholars based in Africa, Europe and America highlights the importance of scholarship in controversial debates beyond media reports — as we have seen over the past few years.”

Cultural wars over the meaning — and place — of sexuality in society are being waged on many fronts, she says. Activists and non-governmental western organizations have recently increased pressure on African governments to integrate sexual rights as human rights.

“The international community keeps talking about these rights. Just a few years ago, Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, said gay rights are human rights. It was a profoundly moving moment. But in Africa, we have to talk about safety first. Safety for queer men and women to talk about homosexuality, to live openly as gay, without fear. This book is an attempt to start this conversation.”

Nyeck acknowledges there are problems across the continent that must be addressed. Problems that go beyond questions of individual or group identity.

“Ultimately,” she says, “all concerns for development in Africa today are related to anxiety about the kind of transformation that might happen within African societies, the legitimacy of agents of change as well as the fear and hopes that may come with change itself.”

Nyeck stresses that these anxieties are not confined to the African continent.

“They challenge all of us,” she says, “at least those of us concerned with educating ourselves and getting to know people, cultures and ways of life that, at first, might seem odd.”

And she says that knowing about controversial issues and how different societies confront them is crucial to Clarkson students.

“Whether they are engineering students, or business or liberal arts majors,” she says, “they will collaborate with people very different from themselves. Our students can work better and do more if they can communicate openly, honestly and intelligently about the complex issues we have to deal with, now and in the future. This book, in both method and theme, is an example of the way scholars engage in — and learn from — uncomfortable conversations.”

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S.N. Nyeck