The Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction research programme is a multi-disciplinary programme funded by the National Research Foundation South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI), the International Woman's Health Coalition, Marie Stopes South Africa, Eastern Cape Liqour Board, SAGE Publications and Rhodes University. It draws on the expertise of a number of researchers both within Rhodes University and at universities/NGOs in South Africa and across the world. 

Overarching Goals

Despite the introduction of enabling sexual and reproductive health legislation, and the implementation of a range of public health, non-governmental and educational interventions, South Africa is faced with multiple challenges surrounding sexuality and reproduction, including: high levels of forced sexual debut, sexual coercion and violence; transactional sex; HIV infection; rape (including child rape); hate crimes against lesbian women and gay men (including ‘corrective’ rape); unwanted and unsupportable pregnancies; and a high maternal mortality rate. Barriers to sexual and reproductive health service provision include structural factors (e.g. travelling distances and cost incursion in reaching a facility), and a range of social dynamics (e.g. abortion is seen in some areas as destructive of cultural values and traditions). The above-mentioned challenges and barriers are simultaneously rooted in, and serve to perpetuate, a range of social inequities centred on race, class, ability, sexual orientation, age and gender. The overarching goal of the research programme is to conduct critical research that addresses the social and human dynamics underpinning our slow progress towards full sexual and reproductive citizenship for all.


The aims of the CSSR research programme are to analyse: (1) discourses and narratives (the technologies of representation) concerning sexualities (e.g. sexual orientation, ‘adolescent’ sexuality) and reproduction/pregnancy deployed in public and private spaces; (2) the interstice between carers (such as health service providers and teachers) and the recipients of sexual and reproductive health or education services (the technologies of intervention); (3) 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, and representations of, sexuality and reproduction; (4) how the governmental technologies of representation and of intervention achieve or undermine gendering, racialising and class-based effects, and lead to the continuation or discontinuation of sexual and reproductive health inequities; (5) the manner in which particular discourses, narratives and practices regarding sexualities and reproduction are maintained or resisted in the everyday lives of men, women and their families; (6) the manner in which the technologies of representation and the technologies of intervention promote or hinder sexual and reproductive health, sexual and reproductive citizenship and sexual and reproductive justice; and (7) how equal sexual and reproductive citizenship may be promoted through policy and practice. 


The research steps outside of the usual biomedical or public health approach to sexual and reproductive health. Rather a postcolonialist, poststructuralist feminist approach and in-depth qualitative methodologies are utilised to illuminate the multiple and complex social processes embedded in sexualities and reproduction. While it is acknowledged that interventions (e.g. sexuality education programmes, good antenatal care, the provision of safe and accessible abortion, the provision of good postnatal care, and the promotion of non-discrimination in workplaces) have the potential to make a difference in men’s and women’s sexual and reproductive lives, there are also multiple ways in which such programmes and the surrounding public discourses concerning sexuality, gender and reproduction can serve in often unintended and unwitting ways to perpetuate rather than undermine existing gendered, racialised and class-based power relations and stereotypical assumptions. The CSSR research programme highlights how particular discourses, narratives, practices and power relations concerning sexuality and reproduction promote inclusion or exclusion, belonging or marginalisation, equity or inequity, justice or injustice, access to, or denial of, sexual and reproductive rights.

In addition to the theoretically informed empirical work, the research programme contributes to theoretical and methodological debates in sexualities and reproduction, in feminist theory and in qualitative research. In line with the theoretical paradigm, the methodologies used involve data collection through interviews, focus group discussions, observations, online discussions, gathering relevant media and policy documents, recordings of interventions, and focussed ethnography. Analytical methods include narrative analysis, discourse analysis, narrative-discursive analysis, conversation analysis, qualitative content analysis, and performative/performance analysis, depending on the project.


Research activities fall under the following broad interconnected areas: (1) sexualities; (2) reproduction; and (3) unsupportable pregnancies/abortion. Within each of these broad areas, a number of related themes of inquiry are conducted.

Recent systematic literature reviews point to certain cross-cutting issues in sexualities and reproduction (e.g. gender stereotypes underpin young people’s sexual behaviour; intimate partner violence is associated with unintended pregnancies; cultural beliefs concerning pregnancy affect antenatal usage). Within this, the socio-spatial specificity of discourses, narratives and practices relating to sexualities and reproduction is increasingly recognised. A strategic aim of the CSSR research programme is to conduct comparative research where feasible and appropriate. This research highlights commonalities and differences in the human and social dynamics underpinning reproduction across these sites and allows for greater depth of analysis of the South African data. 

Last Modified: Wed, 24 Mar 2021 11:10:37 SAST