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The geographies of heteronormativity: The source of symbolic homophobic violence at a South African university

Anthony Brown


This article examines how symbolic homophobic violence is produced from hegemonic and heteronormative institutional geographies. This study forms part of a larger project with Life Orientation student-teachers that investigated the strengthening of HIV and AIDS integration in the curriculum. Five student teachers from the class cohort used photovoice to illustrate how students with same-sex sexual identities were subjected to othering, discrimination, bigotry and overt forms of violent aggression emanating from their non-conforming gender expressions. Through photovoice-narrative interviews, I found that their transgression in spatial heterosexual norms resulted in intimidation, vilification and, in extreme cases, overt forms of violence by peers. This article focused on two themes, namely the physical geographies of symbolic homophobic violence and punishment, and discipline of geographies of the non-normative gendered body. Although symbolically homophobic violence can be linked to individual resistance to same-sex sexuality, this article shows that symbolic violence is largely reproduced by the contours of heteronormativity maintained by institutional geographies. If universities are committed to inclusive and safe learning spaces for diverse identities then they will have to interrogate how hegemonic cultures mobilise discourses that enforce systemic oppression.

Keywords: geographies, institutionalised heteronormativity, symbolic homophobic violence, same-sex sexualities