We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more


If Books Fail, Try Beauty

An Ethnography of Educated Womanhood in the New East Africa

First Edition

Author Brooke Schwartz Bocast

Publication Date - June 2023

ISBN: 9780190852146

232 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

The first book-length ethnography of African university students


If Books Fail, Try Beauty: An Ethnography of Educated Womanhood in the New East Africa examines Kampala's university-based sexual economy wherein female students exchange sexual favors for money, grades, and luxury commodities. These practices increase young women's risk for infectious disease, pregnancy, and moral rebuke, yet many women engaged in "transactional" sex are adept students at Makerere University and members of East Africa's nascent middle class. Based on thirty-six months of ethnographic research, If Books Fail reveals that
students participate in Makerere's sexual economy to pursue social advancement in a newly privatized education sector.

The book charts the passage and effects of Uganda's education restructuring from 2004 onwards and demonstrates how these reforms - in opposition to the government's gender equality aims - undermine female students' opportunities for success by reshaping the meaning of "educated woman." If Books Fail brings together formerly disparate conversations about education, sexuality, and state policy to offer a theorization of emerging forms of selfhood in the post colony.


  • Vivid ethnographic storytelling
  • Fluid and accessible integration of narrative and theory
  • A compelling read for students, scholars, practitioners and policymakers, and anyone drawn to on-the-ground insights from urban East Africa
  • Informed by the author's fifteen years of ethnographic engagement, and thirty-six months of immersive field research, with the young women at the center of the book

About the Author(s)

Brooke Schwartz Bocast is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Montana State University.
Her work has been published in City & Society, PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Anthropology and Humanism, and The Routledge Companion to Media Anthropology. She writes about East African culture and politics at the Council on Foreign Relations' Africa in Transition blog.

Table of Contents

    List of abbreviations
    List of images

    1. Introduction: Did you go to school for this?
    2. From 'town women' to 'campus girls'

    3. The three boyfriends
    4. Declarations of promiscuity
    5. Being known and becoming famous

    6. Towards a bright future
    7. Conclusion: Books, beauty, and becoming educated

    Epilogue: #peoplepowerourpower
    Works Cited

Related Titles