Research Update

As we near the end of our research project and are preparing for our final events in Nairobi later this month I thought you might like to hear a little more about what our researchers have been up to over the last two and a half years.

Research on FGM/FGC was carried out by Principal Investigator Lotte Hughes, in Maasai and Pokot communities. She has become increasingly interested in Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP), promoted by NGOs as an alternative to girls’ initiation rituals that have ‘traditionally’ involved FGM. She is approaching ARP through the lens of critical heritage studies, and in the historical context of colonial-era campaigns against FGM that have continuities in contemporary advocacy. Human rights arguments against FGM often invoke the constitution, which condemns harmful cultural practices.  At the same time, ARPs include cultural components out of respect for cultural rights.

Research by Steve Ouma Akoth (consultant) is based in Yala, western Kenya. He has been grappling with the question, ‘Are Yala residents planning to use the katiba to press for their cultural rights?’  in the contestations in Siaya between a group calling itself the ‘Yala community’ and a commercial farm, Dominion. Research has involved interactions with many actors, and the monitoring of a case brought to Kisumu High Court by Yala residents, who won an action against Dominion Farm.  Notions of cultural heritage were used by the plaintiffs (subsistence farmers and fishermen) in their claim against two county councils and Dominion Farm.

Mark Lamont (Research Associate) has been studying forced male circumcision as a form of male gender violence. In Kenya, where this project has pursued questions of culture, rights, and the governance of law, there is a situation developing where female circumcision is almost unanimously condemned but male circumcision is mostly accepted, even promoted as a voluntary way of reducing HIV infections. But the lines between voluntary male circumcision and forcible circumcision are thinly drawn and there remains the question of whether or not  forced male circumcisions – which happen with a frequency and violence that would suggest not culture but criminality – are better understood as forms of male gender violence implicated in a crisis of masculinity, the hardening of tribal identity, and competing notions of citizenship.

Zoe Cormack (former Research Associate) tracked ‘culture’ as a site of claim making and resistance in northern Kenya, where pastoralist ‘culture’ and ‘heritage’ are being strategically employed by activists and civil society to negotiate or contest anticipated changes such as the LAPSSET development project.  A central focus was the development of bio-cultural community protocols (BCP), legal documents that seek to enshrine people’s rights as custodians of the bio-cultural landscape.

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