My research agenda investigates issues of consciousness, culture, and identity among Africans’ and African descendants’ micro-mobilization processes in locations of the Americas. The grounding posture of my work assumes politicized, diaspora consciousness and emergent cultural products to be the foundation of struggles for liberation from systems of domination connected to the capitalist world-economy. I am especially interested in these manifestations within late 18th and early 19th century insurgencies. My research is interdisciplinary and couples an African Diaspora theoretical paradigm with conceptual insights from social movements scholarship, using primary and secondary source historical data.
In my dissertation, titled “African Diaspora Collective Action: Rituals, Runaways, and the Haitian Revolution,” I analyze events and processes prior to the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution from the perspective of its principal actors: late 18th century African Diasporans enslaved on plantations in the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti). I aim to explain the influence of Africa-inspired sacred rituals on oppositional consciousness and patterns of escape from enslavement – mawonaj – leading up to the Revolution. My archival work in France, the United States, and Haiti is funded with a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award and the John Carter Brown Short-Term Library Fellowship from Brown University.
My dissertation is comprised of three related article-length manuscripts. The first paper suggests that rituals were a critical influence on a growing oppositional consciousness among the enslaved population. The second paper uses content analysis of enslaved runaway advertisements to focus on social ties, assertive behaviors, and length of escape as indicators of consciousness in mawonaj. The third paper expands on the content analysis and examines patterns of mawonaj over time and across space to investigate the influence of structural and environmental factors, such as geography and natural disasters; legal modifications; increases in the enslaved population; and shifts in plantation production levels. I conclude with implications for understanding mass mobilization at the onset of the Haitian Revolution and the years following.
The methodological, theoretical, and empirical contributions of my dissertation improve our scholarly understanding of the interplay between consciousness, social action, and structures in the unfolding of history. My dissertation employs an African Diaspora methodology that requires centering African histories, polities, economies, and cultures to uncover the epistemological and ontological core of cultural and political expressions in Saint Domingue. My fieldwork in Haiti strengthens this dissertation’s mixed-methods approach, which is also an aspect of African Diaspora interdisciplinarity. With regard to the social movements field, the dissertation will advance theoretical understanding of consciousness and human expressions in African Diaspora mobilizations. It will also expand the social movements field to new geographic locations and time periods. The runaway advertisement archive is an underused dataset that can help researchers understand how enslaved people’s micro-level actions reflected collective agency leading to social transformation. In essence, my dissertation’s focus on diaspora consciousness prior to the Haitian Revolution will make important contributions to both of my fields of study.
Preliminary findings from a pilot study are the basis of a manuscript, “Runaways, Repertoires, and Repression: Antecedents to the Haitian Revolution, 1766-1791”, which is currently under review with Social Science History. Using chi-square analysis of a sample of runaway ads, I find statistically significant differences in how the birth origins of runaways influenced their social ties and collective responses to repression. I am currently preparing another manuscript using this runaway advertisement dataset entitled “Motherhood as Micromobilization: Gendered Marronnage before the Haitian Revolution,” which I expect to submit to Gender & Society in spring 2017. In this paper, I seek to problematize prevailing notions about women’s patterns of escapes by foregrounding women who permanently escaped plantations with their children, and I theorize about women’s roles in creating social networks of resistance through family. In Fall 2017, I plan to begin editing the dissertation in preparation for its submission as a book manuscript to an academic press.
My next major research project after my dissertation will investigate issues of continued opposition to newly forming state powers in the immediate years after the Haitian Revolution. I will examine rebels who evaded being absorbed into the southern republic under Alexandre Pétion, and instead relied on their own political will for autonomy and sovereignty. Between 1806 and 1820, an independent peasant republic formed at La Grande Anse led by a former runaway slave of Kongolese origin, Jean-Baptiste “Goman” Perrier, who had previously been a leader of the Haitian Revolution. This case portends understandings of oppositional consciousness among the formerly enslaved masses who preferred communal styled work formations that were based upon local networks of landownership, and thereby circumvented the dominance of elites. Since there are artifacts memorializing Goman in modern-day Haiti (e.g. a statue of him in Jérémie in the Grande Anse department), I seek to understand how, if at all, present-day Haitians remember him and the peasant state he ruled. I will employ archival and qualitative field methods in Haiti for data collection.
These research projects on collective action before and after the Haitian Revolution contribute to scholarly discourse on race and the exploitation of African Diasporans’ labor value; and how their political struggles and cultural products became central forces in the making of the modern world. Global racial and class hierarchies intertwined to disproportionately affect African Diasporans, often relegating them to the lowest levels of social orders. Out of necessity for survival and as a result of legal and de facto segregation, African Diasporans developed their own consciousness, social institutions, and bases for mobilization. Thus, I argue that African Diaspora mobilizations, especially in the early modern era, are interconnected and based on an oppositional consciousness that is inherently in contradiction to the global racial capitalist systems. These African Diaspora insights about subjectivities, enslavement, colonization, and empire in early modern era collective actions contribute to an areas of needed scholarship on the rise of the world-economy and scholarship on the integral roles of consciousness, human expressions, and interactions as integral to micro-mobilization processes that precede social change events. Structural conditions influence the types of social actions people are able to undertake. In turn, historically constituted forms of consciousness allow individuals to make sense of their circumstances, build solidarity, and shape strategies of action that initiate historical transformations.