On Life, love and Politics

"Random musings about Life, love and Politics. Just my open diary on the events going on in the world as I see it."

Review of Francis Nyamnjoh’s Married But Available June 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — kikenileda @ 4:26 AM

Researching sexuality in Africa

Omobolaji Olarinmoye


The book Married But Available is a unique one, unique in the
sense that it is first an exposé – a mischievous and daring one for
that matter – on the issue of sexuality (in Africa and the discourse
guiding research on the issue) and more importantly (at least for the
reviewer) a critique of the process of data collection for research in
the social sciences. In other words, through an examination of
sexuality in Mimboland (a fictional country based on the author’s home
country of Cameroon, but which could easily represent any African
country), the book addresses the issue of how to or not to undertake
social research and examines the consequences, personal and public, of
sloppy data collection.

At a first glance, the idea of a book on
social science research methods is not an obvious choice, but
Nyamnjoh’s is an effective critique of how research on societies in the
global South is done, especially by outsiders to such societies. The
choice of sexuality was an powerful medium for the basis of such a
critique. Set in Mimboland, the research on sexuality, orchestrated by
Lilly Loveless (and her local collaborators, Dr Wiseman Lovemore,
Bobinga Iroko, and Britney) highlights the socio-political and economic
power dynamics that structure sexual relations in Mimboland (read
Africa at large).

Through skilful use of the context of Mimboland, a typical African
state wracked with poverty due to bad governance and dependent on
foreign aid, the author is able to weave together in a concise manner
the issues involved in the debate on African sexuality and explore in
full the nature of male–female, young–old and elite–subaltern sexual
relations. The book highlights how sexuality is socially defined and
how such definitions are influenced by position of the actors involved.
In short, the book shows how religion and politics interact with class,
culture and poverty to structure sexual relations.

What is most important to note is that the exposé on sexuality is a
function of a subtle exploration of the process of data collection in
the social sciences. In other words, the titillating details on
sexuality in Mimboland so lovingly shared by the author with his
readers resulted from the application or misapplication of social
science research methods. Through the efforts of Lilly, Britney, Iroko
and Lovemore to examine the dynamics of sexuality in Mimboland, the
author is able to put social science research methodology under the
spotlight. He identifies the problems and advantages inherent in the
use of established research methods and most importantly provides
solutions. The chapter covering the interview Lilly had with the mobile
phone dealer demonstrates the need to be innovative in data collection.

Nyamnjoh goes a step further to discuss issues that are not given
prominence in discussions of research methodology, issues such as
personal experiences of the researcher in the shape of Lilly’s sexual
escapades with African men during her first visit to Africa (p. 57–60),
Lovemore’s marital problems (p. 166–193), Bobinga Iroko’s personal
tragedy (pp. 360–368) and Britney’s twisted relations with her overseas
boyfriend as reflected in her emails to him. The book also highlights
the need for flexibility in response to situations arising within the
study site (an interview Lilly has with a mobile-phone dealer shows the
need to be innovative in data collection (p. 123–127)), as well as in
relation to ethics, context, questions of bias and how they affect the
choice of research topic, research instruments, research subjects, the
choice of study site, modes of application of research instruments, the
choice of research assistants and final interpretation of research
data.

The challenges faced daily in conducting research in Africa are
highlighted in Nyamnjoh’s discussion of the power relations involved in
research, as reflected in the need for letters of affiliation and
invitation for the outside researcher (p. 1–3), the politics of
collaboration (Lovemore, a PhD holder practically pleads with a
conceited foreign PhD student to co-publish a paper with him (p.
15–16)), and the politics of resource allocation in universities seen
in the actions of the vice-chancellor and the registrar in the form of
appointments, promotions and allocations of funding for research and
attendance at conferences.

The problem is that the above analysis of research methodology is not
very obvious to the reader as the comments and issues pertaining to
research methodology are so skilfully integrated into the prose of the
book that it is only a researcher with fieldwork experience who can
immediately grasp the lessons the author seeks to convey to the
readers. In other words, while the theme of the book is most pertinent
for highlighting the issues involved in conducting social research –
especially in the South by ‘outsiders’ – it tends, due to the
excitement the taboo status it raises in the minds of readers and the
juicy morsels the author most delightfully throws out, to overshadow
the more serious goal of the book, which is to critique social science
research methodology.

But sincerely I cannot think of any other way of achieving the twin
goals the book set out to achieve: examining sexuality in an African
country in a frank manner while critique social science research
methodology. The book is an excellent one, a very pleasurable read and
one that I recommend for those interested in sexuality issues
(especially for its insights into the intricacies and politics of the
field). In the hands of a skilled and experienced instructor, the book
will be useful for the teaching of social science research methods,
especially for the excitement it brings to what is considered by most
students to be a very boring subject.

* Omobolaji Olarinmoye is with the Department of Political Science and Public Administration,

 

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