“This Congress’ theme takes the triad of utopias, realities and heritages as a challenge and seeks to relate it to the ethnographic study of expressive culture and everyday in European ethnology, cultural anthropology and folklore studies. The Congress theme thus aims at analyzing the contemporary moment in the production of imaginaries, projections, wishes, frustrations and anxieties that people have with regard to the past and future; and at the same time proposes to take a self-reflexive stance toward our discipline’s own role in defining the future and imagining the past. While the topic of utopias has recently surged as an iconic term in other academic conferences, ours gives it a special twist by linking it to specifically anthropological and ethnological approaches to everyday realities which are the context of both utopian visions of the future and representations of the past as heritage. The biennial SIEF conference, held for the first time in its history in southeastern Europe, aims at more intensely involving colleagues from Europe’s margins and beyond in international scholarly exchange in cultural anthropology, European ethnology, folklore studies and adjoining fields.”
Brooke Bocast is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Maryland – College Park, specializing in the areas of gender, youth, and global health. In 2010, while a doctoral candidate at Temple University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “’If Books Fail, Try Beauty’: Gender, Consumption, and Higher Education in Uganda,” supervised by Dr. Jessica Winegar. In 2014, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to publicly share and discuss her research findings on female university students’ strategies for social advancement in relation to higher education reform and rising rates of HIV on Ugandan university campuses.
It’s tough to be a university student in Kampala, Uganda. Students contend with crumbling facilities, ineffective administrations, campus closures due to faculty and student strikes, and social lives removed from rural kin networks. At Makerere University (the “Harvard of Africa”), students are saddled with expectations to succeed above and beyond their peers, a proposition made ever more difficult by decreasing opportunities for post-grad employment. While Makerere historically catered to the sons of the East African elite, in the 1990s, President Museveni privatized Uganda’s higher education sector and “democratized” Makerere admissions through quota systems. During my dissertation fieldwork (2010-2012), Makerere administrators and the general public debated the efficacy of these policies, with particular attention to affirmative action for women and the role of female students in general.
My dissertation research examined Makerere University’s sexual economy wherein university women exchange sexual favors for money, luxury commodities, and academic marks. These practices put young women at increased risk for STDs, pregnancy, and moral rebuke. Because of this, global health organizations often assume that women who participate in sexual economic transactions must be indigent, or ignorant, or both. Yet many university women engaged in “transactional” sex are members of Uganda’s nascent middle class and successful students at East Africa’s prestigious Makerere University. Based on data collected in Kampala and at students’ family homes throughout East Africa, I argue that participation in Makerere’s sexual economy is a central means by which female students pursue social advancement in a vastly transformed and contested education system. This strategy has profound consequences for kinship, marriage, and social structures, and gendered labor practices; in addition, campus-based relationships shape emerging HIV transmission patterns.
UNAIDS identifies transactional, “cross-generational” sex (locally termed “sugar daddy” relationships) as a key driver of Uganda’s rising HIV prevalence rates. In recent years, Uganda’s federal government, educational institutions, and public health NGOs have honed in on female university students’ role in these relationships via behavioral change campaigns that seek to alter students’ choice of sexual partners. [see image 1] Popular discourse assumes that young women pursue sugar daddy relationships because they are either vulnerable and desperate or materialistic and predatory. Throughout my fieldwork, university administrators and global health practitioners approached me with questions about young women’s motivations for engaging in sugar daddy relationships. I was often asked how to get university students to stop dating older men. Of course, there is no single “answer” to the “problem” of sugar daddy relationships. Young women engage in diverse sexual interactions for myriad affective, aspirational, and material reasons. My informants reject campaigns that position them as passive and vulnerable, because they consider themselves to be agentive and knowledgeable. At the same time, the epidemiological ramifications cannot be ignored. By engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners across age brackets, young women put themselves and their partners at risk for STDs, and contribute to intergenerational HIV transmission.
I applied for an Engaged Anthropology Grant because I wanted to facilitate discussion between various stakeholders around the dynamics that drive intergenerational sexual relationships on campus. In order to avoid reproducing the dominant framing of transactional sex as a problem of young women lacking life skills and/or sexual restraint, I collaborated with my colleague, Dr. Christian Kakuba at Makerere’s Centre for Population and Applied Statistic (CPAS), to produce an event that framed students practices’ within an analysis of structural inequalities in Uganda’s education sector writ large. We titled our workshop, “Inequalities in Education: A Multi-disciplinary Perspective,” and included presentations based on demographic and ethnographic data that addressed access to, and experiences within, Uganda’s primary, secondary, and tertiary educational institutions. CPAS hosted the workshop, and attendees included Makerere students and alumni, university administrators, policy-makers, civil society actors, education professionals, and public health practitioners. Dr. Kakuba presented his findings on demographic factors that influence primary and secondary school attendance [see image 2], and I presented qualitative data on gendered health disparities among university students, in relation to HIV and cross-generational sex. In addition to paper presentations, we led break-out groups over lunch and facilitated discussions that tacked back and forth between students’ everyday experiences, national trends, and implications for policy and practice. [see image 3]
Workshop participants raised a number of points for further discussion. For example, a secondary school headmaster noted that current policies fail to account for the needs of students with physical and intellectual disabilities, rendering their educational experiences especially trying. Multiple participants, including Makerere alumni, questioned the value of formal education in general, given the limitations of Uganda’s formal employment sector. Female Makerere students spoke about the factors that compel young women to acquire sugar daddies, pointing out that affective and aspirational motivations often trump health concerns. [see image 4] A representative from the Institute for Social and Economic Rights requested further collaboration with the Centre for Population and Applied Statistics, given their shared institutional interests in population data and social justice. It is heartening to think that my Engaged Anthropology project provided a forum for such conversations to occur, and facilitated connections that may lead to improved services for students at all levels of Uganda’s education system.
Every year, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awards the Wadsworth African Fellowship to a young African scholar, enabling them to undertake graduate training in anthropology at a world-class institution. This year’s recipient is Njabulo Chipangura of Zimbabwe, who will be commencing studies at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.
I was born in 1984 in Mutare, Zimbabwe. I did my undergraduate honours degree in Archaeology, Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe between 2004 and 2008. In September 2009, I joined the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe as a curator in the archaeology department at Mutare Museum. Since then I have been involved in a number of archaeological researches which touches on conservation of all archaeological and historical sites, exhumations, rescue excavations and archaeological impact assessments. In 2011, I was awarded with the National Heritage Council of South Africa Scholarship and the Robben Island Museum Grant to study for a Master’s Degree in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of the Western Cape.
For my PhD in Anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand, I am interested in understanding artisanal and small scale mining practices (ASM), technologies and processes in Eastern Zimbabwe using ethnographic and archaeological methodologies. The research seeks to pursue the significant lack of knowledge of all aspects of ASM in Eastern Zimbabwe, and the little knowledge of its history. Contemporary ASM activities have identifiable historical continuity with the past. This might be, for instance, include contemporary re-exploitation of nineteenth century or even much earlier mine workings and shafts, and there may be oral traditions or indigenous memory in some form.
The University of the Witwatersrand will be an ideal place for my study because of its reputation as one of the best universities in Africa. Moreso, the anthropology department at the university is a place with renowned scholars who will help me in achieving my own career goals. The diversity of anthropological issues that the department is involved in also places me at a vantage position in terms of learning and gaining new knowledge.