Material participation and the notion of ‘doing one’s share’: re-considering engagements in present-day virginity testing

Thursday, 13 April, 2017 - 13:00

Eva Riedke

Present-day virginity testing is more of a ‘public health ritual’ than a ‘diagnostic measure’ – an effort to deploy collective pressure so as to increase responsibility for sexual relations in times of AIDS. Exploring arguments such as this one made by Anette Wickström (2010) concerning the re-introduction of virginity testing campaigns, the question is raised whether virginity testing can also come to be understood as facilitating the performance of political or moral action, as enabling forms of ‘public engagement’. Has virginity testing, to follow this line of reasoning, acquired normative capacities and come to facilitate a means ‘to do one’s share’ about particular ‘issues’ in question? At the heart of this question is the notion of ‘material participation’. Hereby objects, devices and settings are considered for the manner in which they become ‘charged’ with issues and as are thereby ascribed the special affordances for political or moral engagement. Also, it builds upon an issue-centred perspective to politics, inspired by American pragmatism, Science and Technologies Studies (STS) and particularly the works of Noortje Marres. The paper draws upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in and around Durban, and engages in the analysis of an annual virginity testing celebration that took place in late 2011. Is present-day virginity testing explicitly made to enable material forms of engagement, particular modalities of participation?