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Working Paper

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In this essay, Katherine Franke explores how dissent becomes a different, and in some ways more interesting, phenomenon when the dissenter emerges not from outside the political horizon drawn by the state, but rather from within it, and as an integral part of the state's project of governance. In these cases, the state calls up a set of subjects who are in some fundamental sense positioned to gain state, if not public, disfavor. These subjects are then isolated, excised or otherwise managed in ways that further state interests. Three cases are discussed in which the production of sexual outlaws proves to be a convenient method of managing periods of public, if not state, stress. She examines how sex and sexuality can be used by the state during significant moments of transition, as well as periods of state formation and reformation, both in identifying danger and as a tactic of governance. First, she looks at the sexual politics of rule of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has found the deployment of sex as a particularly useful wedge issue in his mission of national freedom – that is, freedom from colonial rule by the British. Next she turns to Egypt and recent government-led campaigns of highly public and publicized criminal prosecutions of men alleged to be gay. Finally, she turns to the United States in the period immediately following the civil war, when the federal government undertook two enormously challenging tasks: reunifying the nation after a devastating civil war, and managing the transition of African Americans from enslavement to citizenship. In these three instances sex and sexuality have been particularly useful to the project of managing political instability or transition. These examples illustrate how under some circumstances, in response to transitional stress, the state gains an official sexuality, sources of threat are sexualized, and the management of sex becomes a tool of governance that produces individual unfreedom in the name of expanding national freedom or independence.


Law | Law and Society | Public Law and Legal Theory | Sexuality and the Law