Three commentaries on Prof Sylvia Tamale’s Inaugural Lecture by Samson Bezabeh, Lyn Ossome and Mahmood Mamdani

Reflections on Sylvia Tamale’s Inaugural Professorial Lecture
Samson A. Bezabeh


In her inaugural lecture Professor Sylvia Tamale focused on the relation between nudity and social protest. Engaging in a comparative analysis Sylvia focused on the case of Uganda. To make her case Sylvia discussed the April 18, 2016 event that unfolded at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). On that day Stella Nyanzi, a research fellow at MISR, undressed herself in front of the director’s office after the director decided to close her office following repeated refusals to teach in the MISR PhD program. In her lecture Sylvia claimed that she was initially horrified, embarrassed and ashamed by Nyanzi’s action and rushed to MISR in order to remove Nyanzi from the scene. Upon reflecting, however, Sylvia said her understanding was transformed and that she began considering Nyanzi’s action a form of protest.


Using the event as an entry point Sylvia explained the relation between nudity, law and protest in the Ugandan context. In order to do this Sylvia claimed to make use of a post-structuralist approach which she said had inspired her analysis. Right from the beginning Sylvia’s paper quotes the work of post-structuralist scholars, notably that of Michel Foucault. In the main section of the lecture Sylvia also celebrates Foucault and what she says is his post-structuralist approach.

By placing Sylvia’s lecture within the broader field of social sciences this essay will show the theoretical and methodological gaps in her lecture. By taking seriously Sylvia’s claim of being inspired by post-structuralist scholarship, the author will focus on perceived inconsistencies. Even though Sylvia claims to be inspired by post structuralism and locates her lecture within the post-structuralist school, Sylvia’s lecture fails to make proper use of the post-structuralist theoretical framework. Her lecture is marred by theoretical stances that are actually in contradiction with post structuralism, and particularly with the work of Michel Foucault which is quoted as a source of inspiration....

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