This work deals with human sexuality in Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, based on the practices performed by the actors in their everyday lives. Here sexuality is not conceived of as a spontaneous or autonomous phenomenon, nor as something that is pre-existing or established, but as the result of complex practices that go beyond the human and the sexual, which are assembled by a set of actors; that is to say, by networks.
The argument is based on the construction of case studies which account for the production of complexities in human sexuality in Tehuantepec. This community was selected because of the notoriety of its women, That belong to the Zapotec ethnic group, often considered to be dominant in the Isthmus.
The purpose of the research was to look beyond the superficial appearance of the Isthmus and its people and to explore in depth the critical moments, achievements and concerns of those who contribute to the enactment of a distinct region and its society. No claim is made, then, to deprive generalizations of their veracity. Instead of focusing on particularities the work concentrates on specificities, or rather, the possible connections that are produced in the interactions between humans and the various elements by which they are surrounded.
The study considers five themes commonly associated with human sexuality: beauty, gendered spatiality, sexual life, motherhood and intimate violence in Tehuantepec had been chosen as axis which articulate the practices and discourses of local actors. Through them, it is argued that sexuality does not form part of something abstract but something that is produced by the interactions that take place on daily life.
Methodologically and conceptually, feminism (above all in its post-structuralism guise), the Actor Oriented Approach, and Actor Network Theory all supported this task. On certain occasions, these schools of thought allowed the identification of deterministic statements and on others the recognition of the binary oppositions or dualisms upon which many of the general perspectives, stereotypes and common positions related to the Isthmus are erected. However, it was Actor Network Theory which led me to non-conventional forms of approaching and understanding the complexity of the human and the social’.
The introduction, or chapter one, presents the historical, economic and cultural processes, which often characterize the region. It becomes clear just how easy it is to fall prey to stereotyped images, as well as the importance of being able to see behind the foreground in order to observe the details, or the specific nature of these traditional landscapes.
The second chapter provides the theoretical and methodological reflection which supports the recognition of the importance of the diverse, the voice of the actors and their connectivity with their surroundings. The chapter arrives at the assembly of associations and the production of complexities in which concepts such as networks, bodies and enactments become keys to the recognition of the assemblages related to human sexuality.
The third chapter introduces the notion of ‘enacting beauty’ in order to suggest that the different Isthmus beauties are produced through a series of dynamic, heterogeneous, multiple and hybrid associations. It also proposes the consideration of Isthmus beauty as something that is malleable and transformable.
The fourth chapter covers the polemical association of spatiality and gender. Here if a link between spatiality and gender is recognized, it is nonetheless considered unstable, impure and fluid, in correspondence with the dynamics that the actors themselves succeed in assembling in their daily lives. Hence, it is suggested that both categories repeatedly crosscut, interweave and overlap; something which is captured by the term ‘entangled boundaries’.
The fifth chapter focuses on some of the possible connections between the Isthmus customs and the practices of the local actors with respect to sexual life. ‘Sexual bodies’ captures these multiple and dynamic connections where the biological, ethnic, cultural and social are neither omnipresent nor exclusive when human sexual life is enacted and re-enacted in Tehuantepec.
The sixth chapter questions the tendency to associate motherhood with the woman, alongside another series of diverse determinisms. The cases explored illustrate how motherhood is a battlefield, in the sense that the actors must remain in constant action, often facing struggles in order to assemble, provide continuity or disconnect from maternal networks. It also touches on additional connections in which motherhood forms part of wider and complex networks.
The seventh chapter considers another of the practices associated with human sexuality that actors confront in their everyday life in Tehuantepec: intimate violence. Here the notion of ‘counteracting intimate violence’ argues for a broader conception of this topic as a complex network. It also highlights actors’ actions in order to make clear that they are not passive victims but dynamic actors who enact other networks which counteract chains of intimate violence.
The eighth chapter, or conclusion, covers the trajectory followed throughout the course of this research in order to make the production of complexities associated with human sexuality visible. It recognizes the necessary shift in reference points in order to move away from a focus on commonplaces. It also identifies human sexuality as a set of practices which can, in turn, be related to different themes and links, or, in other words, as the result of associations.