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 Prof. Desiree Lewis

Position: Lecturer
Department: Department of Women and Gender Studies
Faculty: Faculty of Arts
Qualifications: (BA, UCT; MA, Wits and PhD, UCT)
Tel: +27 21 959 2403
Fax: +27 21 959 1273


 Desiree Lewis has taught literary studies at the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Cape Town, Kwazulu Natal and the Western Cape. She has also lectured on Women's and Gender Studies at universities in and beyond South Africa. She has a research interest in literary and popular culture, global feminist knowledges and politics, the politics of visuality and representation and postcolonial writing and culture. She has been a Fulbright scholar-in-residence, a research associate at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala Sweden, and a visiting researcher and lecturer in the United States and Sweden. She currently serves on the editorial boards of four academic journals and is a Council Member of the National English Literary Museum
Desiree Lewis has also been active in developing feminist intellectual activist networks throughout Africa; within South Africa, and in the Western Cape. She undertook research and editorial work on feminist networking and knowledge production at the African Gender Institute between 2001 and 2003; taught course on feminist theory and epistemology for postgraduate students in the Zimbabwean-based network, SAPES between 1993 and 2005; has participated in webinars, workshops and seminars on gender, race and sexualities in South Africa and produces accessible writings on and mentors new writers’ work on feminism and gender. Key activity here involves the NRF ‘s emerging researchers’ forum an online research community platform (See


Books and Guest Edited Journals

Living on a Horizon: Bessie Head and the Politics of Imagining. Trenton: New Jersey: Africa World Press).

Agenda, Issue on  “Gender, Sexuality and Commodity Culture”, vol 25, Issue 4. 2011.

Social Dynamics, Issue on Scripted Bodies vol 37, Issue 2. 2011

Feminist Africa, Issue 2, Changing Cultures, 2003.

Agenda, Fiftieth Anniversary Special Issue on African Feminism, No 50. 2001.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

2013:Politics, Freedoms and Spirituality in Alaa al Aswani’s The Yacoubian Building, Journal for Islamic Studies, vol 33, pp100-125

2013. with Tigist Hssuen and Monique van Vuuren, “Exploring New Media Feminist Technologies Among Young South African Women”, Feminist Africa, Issue 18.

2013: Feminism in Africa (Peer reviewed bibliographical essay). Available at

“The Multiple dimensions of Human Security through the Lens of African Feminist Intellectual Activism”, Africa Peace and Conflict Journal, 6,1, 2013.

2012: “The Politics of ‘Doing Gender in South Africa’” in Social Worker Practitioner-Researcher, 24, 1 (March).

2012:  “Aesthetics and Identity in South African Fashion” in Moletsane, R, Mitchell, C and Smith, A, eds. Was it Something I Wore: Dress, Identity, Materiality. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

2011: Desiree Lewis and Rick Rohde,  “Sophia Klaaste: Self-portraits” in Social Dynamics, 37, 2, pp299-311.

2011: “Representing African Sexualities” in Tamale, S, ed. African Sexualities: A Reader. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford: Pambazuka Press), pp 119-217.

2011:  “Writing Baartman’s Agency: History, Biography and the Imbroglios of Truth” in Gordon-Chipembere, N. ed. Representation and Black Womanhood. New York: Palgrave. pp101-120.

2010: “Discursive Challenges for African Feminisms” in African Feminist Politics of Knowledge: Tensions, Possibilities, Challenges. Eds. Ampofo, Akosua  and Arnfred, Signe, Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute.

2009: “Gendered Spectacle: New Terrains of Struggle in South Africa” in Body Politics and Women Citizens – African Experiences, ed. Ann Schlyter, Stockholm: SIDA Studies. 2009.

2008: Rethinking Nationalism in Relation to Foucault's History of Sexuality and Adrienne Rich's “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Sexualities, 11, 1/2

2008.  “Theory and Intertextuality: Reading Zora Neale Hurston and Bessie Head”, Safundi, The Journal of South African and American Studies, 9, 2, April   

2008: South Africa, African Feminism and Challenges of Solidarity” in Ruiters, G. ed. Gender Activism: Perspectives on the South African transition, institutional Cultures and Everyday Life. Grahamstown: Rhodes University, Institute of Social and Economic Research.

2007. “Feminism and the Radical Imagination” in Agenda, 72.

2001: "Black Women and Biography in South Africa" in Yousaf, N. ed. Apartheid Narratives. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

2001: ”Writing Hybrid Selves: Richard Rive and Zoe Wicomb”, Erasmus, Zimitri. Ed. Coloured By History; Shaped by Place, Cape Town: Kwela Books (2001).

2000: “Prized Pleasures: South African Television Game Shows” in Nuttall, Sarah, and Michael, Cheryl-Ann, eds. South African Cultural Studies, Oxford University Press.

Selected Keynote Addresses and Public Lectures

Keynote Address: “Neo-Imperialism and Rescue Narratives that Travel”, Presented at Migrations of Knowledge Conference, Carl von Ossitzky University, Oldenberg, Germany,  3-6 December. 2014

Public Lecture: “Scripted Sexualities in South Africa”, Centre for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, NYU, 10 April, 2013.

 Keynote Address: “African Same-Sex struggles: Development or Utopia?” delivered at African Same-Sex Sexualities and diversity conference, Organised by the HSRC, Roodevalei Country Estate, Pretoria, 13-16 February, 2011.

Keynote Address: “Performative Queering:  the Politics of South Africa's Sexual Rights”. delivered at conference entitled “Desiring Economies/ Just Economies of Desire”, ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin, 24-26 June 2010.

Keynote Address: “Embodying Feminist Resistance: Performance and Self-styling in South Africa”. Delivered at “The Possibilities of Materiality”, Abo University, Turku, Finland, 20-22 November 2009.

Keynote Address: "The Possibilities of Postcolonial Feminism" delivered at at Conference on Postcolonial Feminism. Women's and Gender Studies, Abo University, Finland (March 2004).


Selected Fellowships

Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence, Georgia State University, Atlanta,  January – May 2007.  

Guest Researcher at Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden, February-May 2004. .

Research Associate at African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town, April – June, 1988.


Recent Projects

Principal Researcher in three-country Project, Womengov, funded by IDRC and co-ordinated by ITforChange, Bangalore, India, 2011-2014.

Project Partner (Globalization and the Body) in North-South-South Higher Education Institution Network Programme funded by CIMO, coordinated at Women's Studies Department, Abo Akademi University, Finland, 2009-2011.

Principal Researcher for “Food Politics and Cultures: Humanities Approaches to Food and Food Systems” Project.  Funded by the Mellon Foundation and Located in the CoE on Food Security at the University of the Western Cape. ​​




 A participant in global and national collaborative research projects, Desiree Lewis is
currently involved in the following projects:

•NRF-funded Project on Social Identities and Performance, invoving seminars and research with academics and postgraduate students.
•SANPAD funded Project on Performance and Citizenship, incorporating research collaboration with postgraduates and academics. 
•IDRC-funded project on ICTs and new media for feminist knowledge production and popular education, based on co-operation with Bangalore, India and Brazil.
•UWC-funded project on representing gender and sexuality, involving personal research and research collaboration with artists.
•UWC-funded project on using film and new media for feminist theorising and activism, involving partnerships with the film-maker Shelley Barry, students at UWC, and  young women from NGOs in the Western Cape. 

Desiree Lewis’ intellectual networking includes keynote addresses and guest lectures. Among these are:

•“Scripted Sexualities in South Africa”, Public Lecture Hosted by the Department of Social and Cultural Anaysis, New York University, 9 April, 2013.
•“African Same-Sex struggles: Development or Utopia?” Keynote Address delivered at African Same-Sex Sexualities and diversity conference, Organised by the HSRC, Roodevalei Country Estate, Pretoria, 13-16 February, 2011.
•“Performative Queering:  the Politics of South Africa's Sexual Rights”. Keynote Address delivered at “Desiring Economies/ Just Economies of Desire”, ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin, 24-26 June 2010.
•“Embodying Feminist Resistance: Performance and Self-styling in South Africa”. Keynote Address delivered at Conference Entitled, “The Possibilities of Materiality”, Abo University, Turku, Finland, 20-22 November 2009.
•2007: “Finding the Local in the Global” Keynote Address delivered at Conference on Teaching Literature in Georgia State, English Department, Georgia State University, 8-9 March.
In addition to formal collaborative networks, Desiree Lewis is committed to partnerships for encouraging public debate about feminism, gender, sexuality and race beyond the academy. Partners here have included the feminist journal, Agenda, the HSRC, the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape and Oxfam Canada.

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