Ambivalent participation: sex, power, and the anthropologist in Mozambique

Med Anthropol. 2012;31(1):44-60. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2011.589418.


Participation in young peoples' sexual cultures in Maputo, Mozambique led to reflections about the field dynamics of power, participation, desire, and discomfort. Structural inequalities of race, gender, and educational status resulted in informants seeing me as a morally righteous person to whom they could not give open accounts about sexual practice. Attempting to overcome these barriers, I participated in excessive nightlife activities, and as a consequence they began viewing me as a more accepting and reliable person. Although breaking down these barriers provided invaluable insight into their sexual culture, it also caused anxiety and troubling desires vis-à-vis informants. I discuss how anthropologists, through fieldwork are transformed from powerful seducers of informants to objects of informants' seduction. This creates dilemmas for the anthropologist whose fieldwork depends on informants' continued participation. I show how negotiating the risks of participation may simultaneously satisfy the desire for knowledge and curb erotic desires.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural / ethics*
  • Anthropology, Cultural / methods
  • Anthropology, Medical / ethics*
  • Anthropology, Medical / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mozambique
  • Power, Psychological
  • Research Design
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors