Report : Book Launch: The Sex Thieves, by Julien Bonhomme (2016, The University of Chicago Press)

On Thursday 21st of September, 2017 IFRA Nigeria and the Alliance Francaise of Ibadan organised jointly an outstanding book launch of The Sex Thieves. The Anthropology of a Rumor by Dr. Julien Bonhomme. It took place at the Alliance Francaise at 5pm.

 As “genital snatching” rumours appear as a transnational phenomenon in West and Central Africa which seemingly originated in Nigeria in the 1970s, this book launch was a particularly timely and relevant event here in Ibadan and we were delighted to host Julien Bonhomme.

The programme begun with goodwill addresses by Nicolas Michellanddirector of the Alliance of Francaise and Dr. Elodie Apard, director of IFRA Nigeria. Dr. Emilie Guitard, deputy director of IFRA and Ismaël Maazaz, research associate, then presented the author, his work, and its relevance.

Dr. Julien Bonhomme first graduated in philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and then shifted to Anthropology at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) of Paris, from which he obtained hi PhD in 2003. He has been a lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Lyon 2 and deputy director of the research department of the Quai Branly Museum. He currently lectures at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. His research interests include the Anthropology of religious facts, the ethnography of communication, visual anthropology and urban ethnography. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Gabon, Senegal and Cuba, along with research in the colonial archives of French Equatorial Africa and Belgian Congo. Dr. Bonhomme has written several books, and The Sex Thieves is the first one translated into English. It is available for free online here.

In his presentation, Dr. Bonhomme portrayed the birth of the phenomenon of “genital snatching/shrinking” in various countries. He detailed its most common modus operandi: a contact between two male strangers in a public place happens; one of the individual experiences an electric shock-like feeling in his groin, leading him to alert the passers-by who violently confront the suspect, sometimes going as far as fatally lynching him. Dr. Bonhomme has listed more than 70 occurrences of this kind since the 1970s in countries as diverse as Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mauritania, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria, affecting half of the African continent. Occurrences notably peaked in the 1990s and cases continue to be reported nowadays.

In his presentation, the author addressed the complex relationship of rumours to Truth. He remarked that rumours, as “normal social phenomena” (Durkheim) need to be taken seriously insofar as they have concrete effects on people’s lives. He detailed the media treatment of the affairs, which generally contributed decisively to amplify the spread of the rumour, including transnationally. The public authority response to the rumours was also addressed, to the extent that law enforcement institutions are concerned by the social disturbance caused by the genital snatching/shrinking rumour.

As usual, the presentation was followed by a Q&A session, moderated by Dr. Guitard. Several questions addressed the veracity of the rumour, a tricky issue as emphasised by Dr. Bonhomme: while he clearly stated that he does not believe that “penis snatching/shrinking” rumours are true, he argued that they remain a crucial social fact given their temporal and spatial extension. Some audience members narrated stories experienced by relatives in Nigeria or reported in the Nigerian media, which interested significantly Dr. Bonhomme and nurtured the reflection of all.

Around 65 people attended the Book Launch, which was a real success. It attracted an eclectic audience which comprised habitués of IFRA lectures and other programmes along with regular visitors of the Alliance Francaise, leading to a mix of academics (students and social science researchers), French language students, teachers and other staff. This success will incite the Alliance Francaise Ibadan and IFRA Nigeria to work jointly again in the very near future.

A few days later, Dr. Bonhomme travelled to Lagos and presented his book at the Jazz Hole on the 24th of September. It gave him the opportunity to interact with a different audience and receive the appreciation from the public.

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IFRA deputy director Emilie Guitard introducing Julien Bonhomme and the programme
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Julien Bonhomme unpacking the key elements of his book

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The audience engaging in a thought-provoking Q&A session after the presentation
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Julien Bonhomme in Lagos a few days later to present his book at the Jazz Hole, Ikoyi Island


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