Empires, Souths, Sexualities

VP’s new sibling

slide empire, south, sexualities

The fraught legacy of the Victorian Empire in nations of the global South, even in the domestic and private spheres, is part of the many enduring histories of power over human bodies. Identifying the co-constituted nature of empires and postcolonial realities of the global South, this sister research seminar to Victorian Persistence titled ‘Empires, Souths, Sexualities’ offers a critical lens to map, understand and problematise the relational perspective of connected histories, cultures, literatures and practices that inform our contemporary worlds. In so doing, it envisions new potential affiliations between global and regional articulations, the global North and South, and the transnational and local/diasporic communities. These tensions implicate configurations of sexualities, sex and genders.

The rationale underpinning this research seminar emerges from enmeshed narratives of multiple empires and souths, whereby neither the geographical location nor the unity of the empire(s) defines a neat categorisation of sexualities. Instead, it aims to probe the competing notions of sexualities, desires, non-normativities and genders in multiple periods of empires and post-empires surfacing through the complex relation with disparate lines of ethnicities, nations and cultures.

An exemplar of the intersecting lines of empires and souths is the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India. On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in a historic judgment that decriminalised same-sex sexual acts. India became one of the growing numbers of countries in the global south where homosexuality is no longer considered a criminal offence. The ruling’s significance lies in two key aspects. It paves the way for similar judgments in countries such as Singapore and Sri Lanka, former colonies of the British Empire. And, more importantly, it terminates the stronghold of a queerphobic law that was a vestige of British India since it was adopted in the Victorian era in 1858.

Attending to critical articulation of how empires regiment sexualities through contradictory movements of engendering homophobia and homosociality concurrently, this seminar therefore considers the resounding impact of colonial hegemony on contemporary lives in postcolonial societies. Empires are thus seen to continue their work through processes of engagement with colonisation/imperialism/ neo-colonialism and inevitable ruptures with them. The myriad responses to these processes through literature, art, queer mobilisation, history and archival writing attest to the continuities. Suturing empires to sexualities and simultaneously de-suturing them from each other emerges as a crucial undertaking for our postcolonial worlds.

The Victorian Persistence seminar will be exploring these paths with the help of Dr Sandeep Bakshi, a member of the VP team and the UFR Etudes Anglophones. Victorian Persistence is part of the “Frontières du Littéraire” pathway within the LARCA research group at the University of Paris.