Cultural Politics of Resilience in Kingston, Jamaica
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Recently, resilience has become a catchall solution for some of the world’s most pressing ecological, economic and social problems. This dissertation analyzes the cultural politics of resilience in Kingston, Jamaica by examining them through their purported universal principles of adaptation and flexibility. On the one hand, mainstream development regimes conceptualize resilience as a necessary and positive attribute of economies, societies and cultures if we are to survive any number of disasters or disturbances. Therefore, in Jamaican cultural and development policy resilience is championed as both a means and an end of development. On the other hand, critics of resilience see the new rollout of resilience projects as deepening neoliberalism, capitalism and new forms of governmentality because resilience projects provide the terrain for new forms of securitization and surveillance practices. These scholars argue that resilience often forecloses the possibilities to resist that which threatens us. However, rather than dismissing resilience as solely a sign of domination and governmentality, this dissertation argues that resilience must be understood as much more ambiguous and complex, rather than within binaries such as subversion vs. neoliberal and resistance vs. resilience. Overly simplistic dualities of this nature have been the dominant approach in the scholarship thus far. This dissertation provides a close analysis of resilience in both multilateral and Jamaican government policy documents, while exploring the historical and contemporary production of resilience in the lives of marginalized populations. Through three sites within Kingston, Jamaica—namely dancehall and street dances, WMW-Jamaica and the activist platform SO((U))L HQ—this dissertation demonstrates that “resilience” is best understood as an ambiguous site of power negotiations, social reproduction and survival in Jamaica today. It is often precisely this ambiguous power of ordinary resilience that is capitalized on and exploited to the detriment of vulnerable groups. At once demonstrating creative negotiation and reproduction of colonial capitalist social relations within the realms of NGO, activist work and cultural production, this dissertation demonstrates the complexity of resilience. Ultimately, this dissertation draws attention to the importance of studying spaces of cultural production in order to understand the power and limits of contemporary policy discourses and political economy.