Accepted Paper:

Rethinking the "Nature" of Sexuality: The Scientific Evidence for Homosexuality in Uganda  


Jia-Hui Lee (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines key reports on homosexuality published by the Ugandan Ministry of Health before passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Considering the production of scientific knowledge about sexuality in Uganda offers theoretical insights for feminist science studies of the global South.

Paper long abstract:

Since 2009, Uganda has come under international scrutiny for attempts to criminalize homosexuality. Scholars have analyzed homophobia in Uganda as products of a (neo)colonial regime of power (Hoad 2011), as a key part of transnational religious organizing (Hassett 2007), and as a contestation of Western human rights norms (Lee 2016). Just weeks before Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's president signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, he commissioned the Ministry of Health to assemble a panel of scientists to evaluate whether homosexuality has "natural causes." Museveni would later describe the scientific study in his national address as providing solid proof that homosexuality does not exist "by nature" and can hence be criminalized in the name of protecting Uganda's moral order. Drawing on methodologies from feminist science studies (Haraway 1991; Harding 2008), this paper reviews the expert opinion offered in the "Ugandan Ministry of Health Scientific Evidence on Homosexuality Reports" (2016) as a critical case study of the production and interpretation of scientific knowledge on sexuality in Uganda. The paper provides an account of how sexuality is understood scientifically in Uganda and situates "the nature of homosexuality" within a wider context of increasing homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa. It contributes to a toolkit of interrogating the intersection between science and politics beyond Western liberal democracies. Finally, it offers a few theoretical implications for doing feminist science studies in postcolonial contexts and from the South, building on a recent turn to focus on theory emerging out of the global South (Law 2015; Comaroff and Comaroff 2012).

Panel T051
Feminist Postcolonial STS