Accepted paper:

What is love? Competing norms of intimacy in interracial couples in Zanzibar


Altaïr Despres (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

By examining how interracial couples in Zanzibar struggle with competing norms regarding love, sexuality and gender roles, the paper shows how they transform the understanding and practices of intimacy, and how social change is performed and embodied in individuals

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar has experienced new waves of Western migration. NGO volunteers, entrepreneurs in the tourism business, or foreign governments staff form a substantial expatriate community, often including a lot of young and single people who engage in intimate relationships with local populations. The important work on "sex tourism" in Africa have analyzed the complexity of intimate transactions between Western tourists and African people. Yet, as they primarily focus on tourism practices and temporalities, they often obscure long-lasting interracial relationships and their role in the transformation of the local understanding and practices of intimacy. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Zanzibar since 2015, during which I followed dozens of interracial couples, this paper examines how partners navigate, negotiate, engage, and possibly struggle with competing norms regarding love, marriage, sexuality and gender roles. By so doing, it looks at how social change is performed and embodied in individuals. Moreover, while most of the literature on interracial intimacy has considered couples composed of a Western man and an African woman, Zanzibar offers an interesting reverse perspective. Indeed, the European migrants who settle in Zanzibar are predominantly educated women from the upper middle-class. They engage in intimate relationships with men who, for their part, are often poorly educated and belong to the impoverished fringes of the Tanzanian youth. This situation is of particular interest to understand the gendered logics and class inequalities that frame intimate practices and social change in Africa.

panel Anth33
Intimate relationships, marriage, and social change in southern Africa