The Sex Thieves: The Anthropology of a Rumor
The conference and debate with anthropologist Julien Bonhomme was held on Tuesday, May 9th, 2023.
Strangers are accused of stealing or shrinking people’s genitals during ordinary encounters in public spaces: a rumor that leads to violent reactions that can go as far as public lynching of the accused. The sex thieves rumor first appeared in the 70’s in Nigeria, before sporadically spreading for a period of 30 years in about 20 countries in West and Central Africa. In his book The Sex Thieves: The Anthropology of a Rumor, Julien Bonhomme shows how, with the sex thieves rumor, witchcraft stops being a local hearsay and becomes an urban, modern, and transnational rumor.
To understand such a phenomenon, the author sheds light on the very ordinary concerns on which rumor is based. He details the accusations and incidents as well as the various protagonists of “genital theft” cases: the alleged victims, mostly men; the accused, strangers or even foreigners who sometimes confess the theft to avoid public lynching; the crowd within which violent acts can emerge; and local authorities who try to restore public order as quickly as possible and avoid mob justice.
How and why does a rumor spread? Where is it discussed? How is it seen by different people? To explain how rumor appears, spreads, and disappears, the author analyses the mechanics of social communication and cultural transmission. He reveals the polyphonic nature of rumors, which create beliefs, raise doubts, and generate criticism. The anthropologist analyses the role played by the media, which documents the cases and labels them (as mystical events or as a crimes), but also spreads the rumor.
To cite this content :
Julien Bonhomme, “The Sex Thieves: The Anthropology of a Rumor”, 9 mai 2023, URL : https://msf-crash.org/en/conferences-debates/sex-thieves-anthropology-rumor
If you want to criticize or develop this content, you can find us on twitter or directly on our site.Contribute
Eyal Weizman, the founder of « Forensic Architecture » at the Goldsmiths College (University of London) came to present the project as well as a number of his works at a MSF - Crash conference organised at MSF.
The polio eradication campaign has indeniably and remarkably succeeded in tumbling down the number of polio cases worldwide. But difficulties currently faced by the Programme -pockets of social resistance in several countries, reinfection of some countries, outbreak of epidemics associated with strains of vaccine-derived polio viruses- indeed challenge one of the main assumptions underlying the objective of the eradication itself : the full compliance of an entire population to a public health program.
People wandering through the rubble in Haiti, arms outstretched begging for help amid the floods in Pakistan: the media coverage of disasters invariably features helpless victims, overwhelmed by the disaster, waiting to be helped...
The reasons why we are accepted, tolerated or sometimes rejected in the contexts where we work are often obscure. Caroline Abu-Sada and her team of sociology student shed some light on these issues.
In 1998 MSF decided to support the creation of the International Criminal Court. 10 years later MSF stated that it ‘would not cooperate and would not transmit any information to the ICC'. How can we explain this change of position?