Ethnopornography: Race, Erotics, and Domination

Instructor: Alírio Karina
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Early anthropology had a sex problem. By day it studied kinship—how legitimately procreative sex produces a society—collected intimate items, and photographed naked subjects; by night, it hung around corners, pestered and menaced its way into intimate spaces. These early anthropologists were not alone. Their settler peers developed obsessions in schoolgirls and purchased wives, in erotic genres of parlor photography, in romantic rape literature, and in rape itself. Likewise, in the imperial center, stories, rumors, and racist claims to science traveled alongside tantalizing photo postcards, transforming objects of exploitation into terrains of desire. For all of them, the colonies were sites of sexual fascination and revulsion. But what role did sexuality play in shaping the colonial projects of racial and territorial domination? How have erotics figured in the racialization of subject peoples? And what has followed from the entanglement of sexual, racial and political power?

Over four weeks, this course will trace key theoretical, historical and anthropological interpretations of the problem of colonial erotic fascination, and its consequences for the conception and material life of race and sexuality in the post-conquest world. Examining the race-making and other-making quality of the erotic in colonial representation, we will attend to the seamlessness with which ideas of sexual perversion, racial inferiority, civilizational difference and criminal deviance come to form a single image—and one whose reality photographs ostensibly prove. Further, we will consider the consequences of this for politics in the colony and the metropole alike, and its ramifications for the politics of sexuality today. Alongside other texts and images, some of which we will engage as primary materials, we will read writing by Malek Alloula, Chris Chitty, Michel Foucault, Keguro Macharia, and Fatimah Tobing Rony, and excerpts from the edited collection, Ethnopornography.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
June 11 — July 02, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Open