Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

Deborah A. Thomas

Abstract

As power regimes across the globe continually conflate Black being and violent criminality to enable exclusion and rationalize deadly forms of punishment, it is theoretically timely and politically necessary to study how criminalization operates and the spaces of freedom people forge. This dissertation takes up this task with East Port of Spain, Trinidad as a case study. Drawing on 24 cumulative months of ethnographic, visual, and archival research, I interrogate the material, discursive and visual processes by which the figure of the “violent criminal” is formulated in Trinidad. I examine how local actors mobilize this spatialized, gendered, and racialized figure to dehumanize Black people living in poor urban communities, subjecting them to what I term criminal life (a mode of being defined by surveillance, policing, and proximity to death). How does criminal life as a mode of existence transgress ethical-juridical and nation-state borders to haunt Black people globally? What are the everyday practices that forge an otherwise to this mode of existence? This project explores these questions as it ultimately speculates on the making of a world where life is treated as unconditionally precious. The use of ideologies of violent criminality in producing and ranking different forms of Black life in Trinidad, a nation-state founded on anti-colonial ideals of Black sovereignty, makes ever visible the complexities of processes of racialization and the ways colonial technologies of antiblackness sustain by replicating and morphing over space and time. By being attentive to these processes, I illuminate the ways the figure of the violent criminal is used to construct—but can also trouble—current ethical-juridical limits of humanity, care, justice, and freedom.

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Available to all on Friday, August 09, 2024

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