Shanti Parikh

Shanti Parikh

Chair of African and African-American Studies
Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology and of African and African-American Studies
PhD, Yale University
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    Professor Parikh’s research focuses on the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and capitalism, and the politics of state and global interventions (such as public health, humanitarian aid, and legal reforms) that emerge to manage, protect, and mold populations.  Her primary research has been the history and ethnography of sexuality, gender, and class in Uganda, East Africa with particular interest in how they have been shaped by the HIV epidemic and aggressive efforts to track, measure, and control what has become the most studied modern epidemic. She is currently writing an ethnography on black masculinity along the TransAfrica Highway based on over 20 years of research. She is also involved in an on-going research project on commercial sex and mobility in HIV hotspots in truck stops, fishing communities, and sugar growing regions in Uganda.

    My research focuses on the intersection of local transformations; global processes; and structures of inequalities surrounding issues of sexuality, particularly gender, sexual and reproductive health, regulation, courtship and romance, and marriage. Using ethnographic and historical methods and critical theory, my research in eastern Uganda focuses on how regimes of regulation and discourses of sexuality have shifted since independence and, more recently, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Theoretical questions revolve around how differentiated actors appropriate increasingly accessible, yet often contradictory, images and discourses of sexuality into their everyday debates, conversations, and ideas of sexual relationships. I highlight the ways in which various state, family, health, and local agents attempt to regulate meanings of sexuality and how such struggles are connected to increased anxiety stimulated by sexual health concerns, commercialization of the local economy, and Uganda's connection to global cultural flows. In Regulating Romance: Youth Love Letters, Moral Anxiety, and Interventions in Uganda’s Time of AIDS (Vanderbilt, 2015), I examine youth romance as written in their love letters, and attempts to regulate sexuality through the age of consent law. I pay particular attention to the articulations of historic inequalities such as sex, age, and class in sexual relationships. In a co-authored book, The Secret: Love Marriage and HIV (Vanderbilt, 2009), we consider how marital sex—promoted as protection from HIV—is women’s greatest HIV risk around the world. We develop the concepts of extramarital opportunity structures, sexual geographies, and social risk to understand larger factors that facilitate men’s participation in extramarital sex.

    In my fieldwork I integrate ethnographic research methods with active research techniques. By doing so, I enter into dialogue with debates about the role of anthropology in public health and anthropological critiques of development. I have begun further research on infidelity and HIV transmission and the social history of sexuality in rural post-colonial Uganda. Broadly speaking, I am interested in sexual and reproductive health issues, and regimes of sexuality.

    Professor Parikh has a joint appointment with the Department of African and African American Studies Department, and courtesy appointments in The Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Urban Studies and Policy. Her courses are also cross-listed in International and Area Studies (IAS) and American Cultural Studies (AMCS). She is a former Faculty Director the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF) and Faculty Fellow in T. H. Eliot Residential College on the South 40.


    Selected Publications

    2020. Parikh, Shanti, and Jong Bum Kwon, eds. “@Ferguson: Still Here in the Afterlives of Black Death, Defiance, and Joy.” Forum, American Ethnologist 47, no. 2 (May). [Link]

    2019.  Best, Worst, and Good Enough: Lessons Learned from Multi-Sited Comparative Ethnography. In Comparative Ethnography: Innovations and Successful Strategies, Michael Schnegg and Edward D. Lowe (editors). Cambridge U. Co-authored with: Jennifer Hirsch, Holly Wardlow, Daniel Smith, Harriet Phinney, and Constance Nathanson.

    2017. Introduction: The 2016 Brexit referendum and the Trump election. American Ethnologist, 44: 195-200.  Edwards, J., Haugeru.

    2015. Regulating Romance: Youth Love Letters, Moral Anxiety, and Interventions in Uganda’s Time of HIV.  Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

    2013. From “Private” Affairs to “Public” Scandals: The Modern Woman’s Challenge to Husband’s Infidelities in Uganda.  In Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective, eds. Caroline Brettell and Carolyn Sargent, 6th edition. New York: Prentice Hall Press.

    2012. ‘They Arrested Me for Loving a Schoolgirl’: Ethnography, HIV, and Assessing the Age of Consent as a Gender-based Macro-level Structural Intervention in Uganda. Social Science and Medicine, 74(11):1774-82.

    2009. The Secret: Love, Marriage, and HIV Risk. Co-authored with: Jennifer Hirsch, Holly Wardlow, Daniel Smith, Harriet Phinney, and Constance Nathanson.  Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

    2008. Beyond the Structure vs. Agency Debate in Sexual Decision-Making: Love Letters, Youth Romance and Condoms in Uganda. In Dorothy Roberts and Rhoda Reddick (eds.) Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS: The Caribbean and Beyond. Ian Randle Publishers: Kingston, Jamaica.

    2007. The Political Economy of Marital HIV Risk in Uganda: The ABC Approach, Unintended Risk, and 'Safe' Infidelity. American Journal of Public Health 97( 7): 1198-1208.

    2007. Age of Consent Law and Moral Order: The Criminalization of Youth Sexual Relationships in Uganda. In Carolyn M. Elliott (ed.) Global Empowerment of Women: Responses to Globalization and Politicized Religions. New York: Routledge. Pages 303-326.

    2005 From Auntie to Disco: The Bifurcation of Risk and Pleasure in Sex Education in Uganda. In Sex in Development: Science, Sexuality, and Morality in Global Perspective, V. Adams and S. L. Pigg (eds). Durham: Duke University Press, p 125-158. 

    2004 Sex, Lies and Love Letters: Condoms, Female Agency, and Paradoxes of Romance in Uganda. In Agenda: African Feminisms, Special Issue "Sexualities/Sexuality in Africa," 62, Vol 2/1:2-20. 

    2004 Sugar Daddies and Sexual Citizenship in Uganda: Rethinking 3rd Wave Feminism. In Black Renaissance / Renaissance Noir, 6, 1:82-107. 

    2003 'Don't tell your sister or anyone that you love me': Considering the Effects of Adult Regulation on Adolescent Sexual Subjectivities in Uganda's Time of AIDS. In Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS: Research and Intervention in Africa, B. Pinkowsky Tersbøl (ed). Institute of Public Health , University of Copenhagen.

    Regulating Romance: Youth Love Letters, Moral Anxiety and Intervention in Uganda's Time of AIDS

    Regulating Romance: Youth Love Letters, Moral Anxiety and Intervention in Uganda's Time of AIDS

    Drawing on ten years of ethnographic research, two hundred fifty interviews, and over three hundred youth love letters, author Shanti Parikh uses lively vignettes to provide a rare window into young people's heterosexual desires and practices in Uganda. In chapters entitled "Unbreak my heart," "I miss you like a desert missing rain," and "You're just playing with my head," she invites readers into the world of secret longings, disappointments, and anxieties of young Ugandans as they grapple with everyday difficulties while creatively imagining romantic futures and possibilities.

    Parikh also examines the unintended consequences of Uganda's aggressive HIV campaigns that thrust sexuality and anxieties about it into the public sphere. In a context of economic precarity and generational tension that constantly complicates young people's notions of consumption-based romance, communities experience the dilemmas of protecting and policing young people from reputational and health dangers of sexual activity. "They arrested me for loving a school girl" is the title of a chapter on controlling delinquent daughters and punishing defiant boyfriends for attempting to undermine patriarchal authority by asserting their adolescent romantic agency. Sex education programs struggle between risk and pleasure amidst morally charged debates among international donors and community elders, transforming the youthful female body into a platform for public critique and concern. The many sides of this research constitute an eloquently executed critical anthropology of intervention.