Kwame E. Otu

Assistant Professor (AAS)

African Anthropology, Race, Sex, and Gender, Theories of Antiblackness and Anticolonial Studies, Transnational LGBT Human Rights, Afro-Diaspora and Afrofuturism, African Science, Science, Technology, and Society (STS)

227C Minor Hall

Kwame Edwin Otu is currently an Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. He is also the Guerrant Assistant Professor of Public Health at UVA’s Center for Global Health Equity.

I’m a cultural anthropologist with varied interests, ranging from the politics of sexual, environmental, and technological citizenships, public health, and their intersections with shifting racial formations in neocolonial and neoliberal Africa and the African Diaspora. My first book monograph, entitled, Amphibious Subjects: Sasso and the Contested Politics of Queer Self-Making in Neoliberal Ghana, published by the University of California Press, is an ethnography on queer self-fashioning among a community of self-identified effeminate men, known in local parlance as sasso. The book draws on African philosophy, African/black feminisms, and African and African Diasporic literature to explore how sasso navigate homophobia and the increased visibility of LGBT human rights politics in neoliberal Ghana.

Increasingly, my interests in environmental sustainability issues in Ghana are drawing me to the less recognized interdisciplinary field of African Science, in particular, and Science, Technology, and Society (STS) studies from the perspective of Africa and its myriad diasporas in general. What does it mean to acknowledge African Science and African STS as a viable epistemological arenas for not only thinking about the global politics of e-waste in particular, but the undulations of global climate change in general? I pose this crucial question in my ongoing project titled E-Waste as Archive: The Politics of Toxic Citizenship-Making on an E-Waste Dump in Neoliberal Ghana, which outlines Africa’s paradoxical location as a site of extraction and deposition. In this project, I explore the racialization of Africa and Africans in literal and figurative readings of “waste.” The project privileges a community of waste workers on an e-waste dump in Ghana by putting them at the center of critical anthropological and ecological inquiries. In doing so, I explain how e-waste workers’ lives echo those histories of displacement that animate dispossession, extraction, and deposition. Hence, toxic citizenship, the operative term here, does not merely highlight how these workers are exposed to toxins, but problematizes how the histories of slavery and colonization engender conditions for toxic selfhoods. Turning to the radical interventions by the likes of Walter Rodney, Gloria Emeagwali, D.A. Masolo, C.C. Mavhunga, Cedric Robinson, Patricia McFadden  etc., I read waste as an archive that illuminates the continued exploitation of Black bodies and interrogate the ways in which racial capitalism masks African technological and scientific innovations. I am particularly interested in how “waste” or “refuse” provides an epistemology for advancing African Science not only as a science that “refuses” but a science of “refusal.”

In addition to the above projects, I have been working on a personal project, a memoir that documents my upbringing as queer Ghanaian man in a traditional Presbyterian family in urban Ghana. Called In my Mother’s House, the memoir, part epistolary, part autobiographical, ponders on the erosion of my once intimate relationship with my mother.


Note: Professor Otu is on leave for the 2022 Fall semester