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Accepted Paper:

Love and money aspirations: inquiries into the “blesser phenomenon” in Cape Town, South Africa  
Thais Tiriba (University of São Paulo)

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, I look into young people’s experiences of sexual, romantic, and material exchanges with older men (blessers) in Cape Town, South Africa, and its connections with their future aspirations in relation to love, family and money.

Paper long abstract:

In this presentation, I share part of my ethnographic material, assembled from interviews with young South African university students in Cape Town about their impressions and/or experiences regarding the so-called “blesser phenomenon”, in which men of more resources engage in affective, material and sexual exchanges with younger people. It is a morally charged topic. On the one hand, public health officials, political parties, and religious groups campaign against the practice, often associated with a higher risk of HIV infection for young women, on the other hand, countless social media content associate the practice with female empowerment.

I try to make connections between the blesser phenomenon and young people’s aspirations for the future regarding love, family, and money, by building on the efforts of sexuality scholars in Brazil and South Africa who look at similarly morally charged scenarios and produce nuanced work that will resist sexualizing and/or exoticizing inequalities.

This paper is part of my ongoing Ph.D. research which aims to investigate the landscape of intimacy among young people in Cape Town and looks at the intersections between the economic and affective spheres, and their relation to a material reality marked by economic crisis and unemployment, often within cultural dynamics that foresee material exchanges in the formalization of affective and family ties.

Panel Anth50
Feminist sexual futures in the making
  Session 2 Friday 2 June, 2023, -