Critical studies in sexualities and reproduction
South Africa is faced with multiple challenges surrounding sexuality and reproduction, including forced sexual debut, sexual coercion, sexual violence, HIV infection, ‘corrective’ rape, unwanted pregnancy, a high maternal mortality rate, barriers to sexual and reproductive health service provision, and lack of access to termination of pregnancy services despite its legal status. These challenges are simultaneously rooted in and serve to perpetuate a range of social inequities centred on race, class, ability, sexual orientation, age and gender. A substantial amount of research that has grappled with these complexities has been conducted at Rhodes University over the last decade. This multidisciplinary work has received international recognition and has been used to inform national sexual and reproductive health strategies.
The broad aims of the research conducted in the area of Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction are to analyse: (1) discourses concerning sexualities (e.g. sexual orientation, “adolescent” sexuality) and reproduction/pregnancy deployed in public and private spaces; (2) the range of taken-for-granted assumptions or absent traces (e.g. regarding the nature of adolescence, mothering, family formation and function, race and class) that underpin interventions with respect to sexuality and reproduction; (3) the governmental technologies of representation and intervention that achieve or undermine particular gendering, racialising and class-based effects, and lead to the continuation/discontinuation of sexual and reproductive health inequities; (4) the manner in which particular discourses regarding sexualities and reproduction are perpetuated or resisted in the everyday lives of men, women and their families; and (5) the interstice between carers (such as health service providers and teachers) and the recipients of sexual and reproductive health or education services and the manner in which these interactions promote or hinder sexual and reproductive health/citizenship. As such, the research steps outside of the usual biomedical or public health approach to sexual and reproductive health. Rather a range of theoretical approaches (postcolonialism, post-structuralism, feminism) and in-depth qualitative methodologies are utilised to illuminate the multiple and complex social processes embedded in sexualities and reproduction.