Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

John L. Jackson


What does annihilation sound like? Annihilation, as it turns out, is often harrowingly quiet. This dissertation is a longitudinal ethnographic study of how a vast constellation of variegated silences amidst one narcotics dominated public housing community in the Caribbean, Alelí, coalesces to form an almost impenetrable tapestry of both protections and risk. Beneath a cloak of aphonicity, or soundlessness, the dialogues and concomitant silences of youth narco-soldiers, elders, school staff, both transnational and micro-traffickers, civil servants, and grassroots organizers are plumbed in order to glean an eye-level perspective of how life trajectories are impacted by illicit trafficking flows. Almost a tenth of the Island’s school deserters leave prior to completing elementary school; attendance is highly—if not entirely—discretionary. Yet to the extent that children are not matriculated, engaged in, and consistently attending the public schools, to that same extent the Island is actively fomenting and fostering its own insecurity internally. This dissertation argues that the children’s aphonic, premature exits from state sponsored schooling contribute significantly to the phenomena of truncated life trajectories—wherein the transitions from truant to deserter to youth soldier to premature demise occur in rapid succession. This dissertation sits anchored in the wake of such unspectacular scholastic departures, primarily examining how, through social and institutional networks, Islanders surrounding such young people unwittingly or intentionally participate in or fight against this all too prevalent default mode of desertion and its predictable aftershocks. In Alelí, just as in some of the other impenetrable government housing projects Islandside, artillery is already an integral and not aberrant component of the soundscape. As such, I trace an arc wherein young men’s loss of vocality and visibility becomes translanguaged into firearm detonations. During more than eight years immersed in Alelí’s soundscape, I observe how the aphonicity of voice lays masterful claim over terrain wherein silence reigns as a deeply embedded form of cultural capital, loquacity is not a skillset but an impediment, and intel swiftly transforms into liability.

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