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Negotiating social change: Ugandan discourses on Westernisation and neo-colonialism as forms of social critique*

  • Julia Vorhölter (a1)

A common claim, in public discourses and in post-colonial theory, is that colonialism, and more recently the aid industry and the media, have created global hegemonic norms, which have been enforced on non-Western societies. While this may be true in some respects, this article takes a different stance on the debate. It scrutinises perceptions of Western-influenced social change in Uganda, and differentiates between discourses on Westernisation and discourses on neo-colonialism. Both are analysed as forms of social critique – one internally and the other externally oriented. The largely elitist discourse on neo-colonialism is explicitly critical of the West and its interventions in Uganda. But it is not representative of the more ambiguous perceptions of Westernisation among ‘ordinary’ people, who use references to the West to comment on contemporary Ugandan society. The article is based on empirical research in Northern Uganda. It focuses on discourses on gender, kinship and sexuality, and the recent debate on homosexuality.

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This article benefited from valuable comments by Elfriede Hermann, Roman Loimeier, Sascha Kesseler, Ulrich Braukämper and two anonymous reviewers. Furthermore, I would like to thank my interlocutors and friends in Gulu for their support during my research.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

L. Abu-Lughod 2002. ‘Do Muslim women really need saving? Anthropological reflections on cultural relativism and its others’, American Anthropologist 104, 3: 783–90.

K. E. Cheney 2007. Pillars of the Nation: child citizens and Ugandan national development. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

J. Ferguson 2006. Global Shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

M. Hunter 2002. ‘The materiality of everyday sex: thinking beyond “prostitution”’, African Studies 61, 1: 99120.

C. T. Mohanty 1988. ‘Under Western eyes: feminist scholarship and colonial discourses’, Feminist Review 30: 6188.

W. N. Njambi 2004. ‘Dualisms and female bodies in representations of African female circumcision: a feminist critique’, Feminist Theory 5, 3: 281303.

M. Silberschmidt 2001. ‘Disempowerment of men in rural and urban East Africa: implications for male identity and sexual behavior’, World Development 29, 4: 657–71.

M. Silberschmidt & V. Rasch . 2001. ‘Adolescent girls, illegal abortions and “sugar-daddies” in Dar es Salaam: vulnerable victims and active social agents’, Social Science and Medicine 52: 1815–26.

J. Wiegratz 2010. ‘Fake capitalism? The dynamics of neo-liberal moral restructuring and pseudo-development: the case of Uganda’, Review of African Political Economy 37, 124: 123–37.

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The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
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