Rita Segato is an Argentinian anthropologist who has written extensively on gender, violence, the gender system in the Yoruba tradition, race, and coloniality. She is a major figure of Latin American decolonial feminism, but because her work exists almost exclusively in Spanish and/or Portuguese, she is not as well known in the Anglo-American circuit of knowledge production as others are. She currently holds the Aníbal Quijano Chair at the Museum Reina Sofía in Madrid. Three major lines of interconnected research can be broadly identified in Segato’s work.
First, gender and violence, which she started in the nineties when asked by the police in Brasilia for ways to account for soaring rape rates (violación cruenta) in the city. This first ethnographic work with male prisoners serving sentences for rape, opened the route for Segato to become a reference on gender violence in Latin America and she has carried out research on this subject in Juarez (Mexico), Guatemala, and El Salvador, among others. From her work on violence, Segato affirms that gender is the cornerstone around which all powers articulate. Accordingly, in order to tackle violence it is necessary to dismantle what she terms el mandato de la masculinidad (‘the mandate of masculinity’).
A second line of research is on the gender system in Afro-Brazilian cults that draw their heritage from the Yoruba tradition. In ‘The Gender Factor in the Yoruba Transnational Religious World’ (2003), Segato gives a contrasting interpretation of the gender system in the Yoruba tradition with regard to two dominant approaches: Oyeronke Oyewumi’s, a nativist account that claims, against all evidence, that gender and patriarchy are colonial impositions, and Lorand Matory’s, which misreads the data from within a rigid Western framework. From her own ethnographic work in a Xangô cult community in Recife (Brazil), Segato shows, first, that a nomenclature codifying gender —that is, degrees of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’— exists (which goes against claims of pre-colonial genderless African or American societies). Second, that rather than being fixed, these categories are malleable and this allows for transitioning between them. Thus, instead of confirming the gender binary and the dominance of heterosexuality, her analysis troubles both and challenges certain Western readings. Third, she points to the existence of a patriarchy of lower intensity compared to the one brought in and imposed by colonisers. Segato’s work allows us to conclude that rather than gender, what colonisation imposed was the gender binary which, in turn, leads to the introduction of the idea of heterosexuality, on the one hand, and the replacement of a low-intensity patriarchal system of social organisation by one of high-intensity, on the other. In sum, the gender system in these communities might be read as a kind of queer-theory avant la lettre.
The third line of research, which has taken clearer shape in recent years but has always been prefigured since the beginning, is on what she identifies as the intersection between two politico-theoretical stances: what she terms ‘anthropology on demand’ —which shifts the structure, logic, and flow of knowledge production within the discipline itself thus destabilising several hierarchies (West/Rest, subject/object, theory/practice)— and Aníbal Quijano’s crucial concept of the ‘coloniality of power’ —which she reads as a breaking point in Latin American critical thought that split the history of academic fields (history, philosophy, social sciences) and political struggle in two and which further has the potential for transforming global social theory.
Segato, Rita. ‘The Factor of Gender in the Yoruba Transnational Religious World’. Plenary session in the conference ‘Gender, Religious Organization and Practice’ organised by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion that took place in Houston in 2000.
Segato, Rita. ‘A Manifesto in Four Themes’. In Critical Times. 1(1): 188-211, 2018. Translated by Ramsey McGlazer.
Segato, Rita. La Nación y sus Otros. Raza, etnicidad y diversidad religiosa en tiempos de Políticas de la Identidad. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Prometeo libros, 2007.
Segato, Rita. La crítica de la colonialidad en ocho ensayos. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Prometeo libros, 2015.
Segato, Rita. La guerra contra las mujeres. Madrid, España: Traficantes de sueños, 2016.
Segato, Rita. Contra-pedagogías de la crueldad. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Prometeo libros, 2018.
What does Rita Segato (her case, her work) highlight with regard to the dominant circuit of knowledge production?
How is the expression ‘the mandate of masculinity’ (mandato de la masculinidad) different from/close to the concept of toxic masculinity?
Submitted by Isis Giraldo