Inalienable Bodies: Palenquera Women And Negotiations Of Embodied Sovereignty In The Colombian Caribbean (cartagena De Indias And San Basilio De Palenque)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Black feminist ethnography
Black women's activism
San Basilio de Palenque
African American Studies
Latin American Languages and Societies
Latin American Studies
Women's Studies
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Henry, Amber Marie

This dissertation, (In)alienable Bodies: Palenquera Women and Negotiations of Embodied Sovereignty in the Colombian Caribbean, explores contemporary configurations of sovereignty for Afro-Colombian women in the context of neoliberal multiculturalism. My approach in this project is twofold. First, I analyze the discursive, symbolic and affective processes through which state and private actors reconfigure Palenquera women as folkloric symbols frozen in the past through a process I term "assemblages of alienation." To probe this concept, I illustrate how home-grown versions of multiculturalism, tourism, and heritage attempt to uncouple the bodies of Palenquera women from their sovereign attachments, thereby producing affective intensities of estrangement. Second, I uncover the quotidian practices through which Palenquera women fashion their bodies as a locus of sovereign power and African diasporic kinship. The questions that animate this investigation are, how might attention to embodiment surface the affective dimensions of sovereignty and dispossession? What are the techniques and technologies through which sovereignty becomes fastened to the body? What are the uses and limitations of sovereignty for Black and Indigenous communities in twenty-first century Latin America? Informed by fifty months of engaged ethnographic research in Cartagena and San Basilio de Palenque spread over more than a decade, this multi-sited project draws from archival research, audio-visual documentation, tourism propaganda, and participant observation with Palenquero/as, government officials and major stakeholders in the tourism and heritage industries. Through these methods, I examine how sovereignty becomes produced as an embodied stance, its enactments, and the processes of alienation against which sovereign beings must contend. I conclude through strategic deployments of refusal, disavowal, and opacity, Palenquera women manage to refute processes of alienation and affirm their status as (in)alienable bodies, even while engaging in essentialized forms of cultural performance. This project departs from existing scholarship that positions the Pacific coast as the primary locus of Black politicization in Colombia. Instead, it highlights the local-specificities of Black political action by foregrounding racialized, classed, and gendered modes of grassroots mobilization in the Colombian Caribbean. I investigate the micro social realities of neoliberal multiculturalism and explore the everyday strategies through which Palenquera women articulate themselves within and against the sovereignty of the nation state.

Deborah A. Thomas
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