Serawit B. Debele

How to (not?) know the Ethiopian Woman and her Hidden Desires

Serawit B. Debele
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In this talk, Serawit B. Debele juxtaposes two divergent archives to think about how the female body is produced through discourses on sexual desire. On one hand, she focuses on Wendy Belcher’s and Michael Kleiner’s controversial translation of a hagiography of a female patron saint from the 16th century. On another, she looks at magazines – which exclusively focused on women and sex – that were produced in the first few years of regime change in Ethiopia in 1991.

What makes reading the two together interesting is what they share irrespective of the multiple differences including time of production. This is what they share: the producers and disseminators of knowledge are foreign to the world of the women they claim to speak for/about. The translators of the hagiography are literally foreigners and the magazine’s contributors are predominantly male, despite Ethiopian, writers. Both operate with the West as the epicentre of knowledge through which we know the rest. Zeroing in on discourses of sexual desire, Serawit B. Debele will be speaking about what these works do to our understanding of womanhood as gazed at from elsewhere. She intends to scrutinise what happens when Western epistemic and/or theoretical categories – such as sexuality and queerness – are adopted by both insiders and outsiders.


About the speaker

Serawit B. Debele (PhD) is a Junior Research Group Leader in the Africa-Multiple Cluster of Excellence at the University of Bayreuth. She is the author of the book Locating Politics in Ethiopia’s Irreecha Ritual. Her current work focuses on sexual minorities in moments of political transformation (revolutions) in Africa. She earned her PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Bayreuth/BIGSAS in 2015.


Part of the Gender Seminar Series

The purpose of this research seminar is to offer a platform of exchange for students, doctoral students in particular, and researchers whose work includes a gender perspective. During this monthly series, researchers have the opportunity to discuss their work, meet peers from different disciplines at the Graduate Institute, as well as interact with other students, guest speakers and faculty members. The programme of this semester's Gender Seminar Series is here.


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