Past Events


Speaker Series - Deborah Thomas

Friday, February 07, 2020, 03:00pm


Abstract:  Anthropologist Don Robotham once dubbed Kingston a “wounded city,” in large part the result of the growth of urban colonial ghettos in the late 19thcentury and their transformation into garrison communities during the mid-20th.  Wounds can leave scars, material traces of violent encounters, but the effects of wounds can also remain invisible.  How might we create archives of the invisible scars created by the unique constellation of post-emancipation political developments in Jamaica?  In this paper, I will argue that these scars are made manifest – and thus available for archiving – in the wake of moments of exceptional violence.  It is in these moments that the public secrets undergirding the practices and performances of state sovereignty come closer to the surface.  Tivoli Gardens community members’ narratives of what they experienced during the 2010 state of emergency, therefore, exist not only as archives of specific experiences of state violence, but also of the more general parameters of governance that map the geospatial contours of Kingston’s socio-political and economic entanglements.

Deborah A. Thomas is the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, and the Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.  She is the author of Exceptional Violence:  Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica and Modern Blackness:  Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica, and is co-editor of the volume Globalization and Race:  Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness.  Her new book, Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation, will be published in November by Duke University Press.  Thomas co-directed and co-produced the documentary films Bad Friday:  Rastafari after Coral Gardens, and Four Days in May, and the experimental short film, Four Days in West Kingston.  She is also the co-curator of a multi-media installation titled Bearing Witness:  Four Days in West Kingston, which opened at the Penn Museum in November 2017.  Thomas is the Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.  Prior to Thomas’s life as an academic, she was a professional dancer with the New York-based Urban Bush Women.  

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