Paul Boyce, lecturer in Anthropology, University of Sussex, UK

Subject, Objects, and Secrets: Misrecognizing Same-Sex Sexualities in West Bengal as a Viewpoint for Anthropological Ignorance in Modernity

This paper explores the potential of ignorance as an ethnographic viewpoint on contemporary sexualities in West Bengal, India. Conceived across different scales of experience and analysis the paper positions same-sex desiring practices and intimacies (including those of the ethnographer) as salient to anthropological reflections on modernity in terms of an appreciation of misrecognition. The sexual is seen to be less about empirical identification, and more about what is obscured or secreted, either purposively or sub-consciously, by social actors. Whilst this prefigures a standpoint that works against essentialism, the paper seeks to avoid a ‘neurotic deconstruction’ of sexual subjectivities by stressing specific ethnographic reflections, enabling oblique but tangible appreciations of contemporary sexual life-worlds. This demands attention to the intimate as distributed across social relations. In turn, this raises wider questions about anthropological knowledge and the capacity to know the intimate lives of others, and indeed of oneself. West Bengal emerges as an especially salient ethnographic context, for being a place where modernity is so politically contested, and where the practice and praxis of same-sex sexualities may be especially evoked in terms of contested viewpoints on the past and the future.

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