December 10, 2012

1 Minute Book Review: Exceptional Violence by Deborah A. Thomas

Name of the book: Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica 

Author:  Deborah A. Thomas 

Publisher: Duke University Press Books 

What's the book about?  "Exceptional Violence is a sophisticated examination of postcolonial state formation in the Caribbean, considered across time and space, from the period of imperial New World expansion to the contemporary neoliberal era, and from neighborhood dynamics in Kingston to transnational socioeconomic and political fields. Deborah A. Thomas takes as her immediate focus violence in Jamaica and representations of that violence as they circulate within the country and abroad. Through an analysis encompassing Kingston communities, Jamaica’s national media, works of popular culture, notions of respectability, practices of punishment and discipline during slavery, the effects of intensified migration, and Jamaica’s national cultural policy, Thomas develops several arguments. Violence in Jamaica is the complicated result of a structural history of colonialism and underdevelopment, not a cultural characteristic passed from one generation to the next. Citizenship is embodied; scholars must be attentive to how race, gender, and sexuality have been made to matter over time. Suggesting that anthropologists in the United States should engage more deeply with history and political economy, Thomas mobilizes a concept of reparations as a framework for thinking, a rubric useful in its emphasis on structural and historical lineages."

Why am I reading the book?

I came of age during one of the most violent periods in Jamaican history. I've been trying to understand the causes of violence during the seventies and after. Exceptional Violence has given me many valuable insights about this complex issue. Thomas also examines the involvement of RastafarI in the reparations movement, their willingness to be classified as "indigenous," and an investigation of "Bad Friday" vis-a-vis violence in Jamaican culture.

Quote from the book: 

"What is needed to generate real justice, in other words, is a sustained conversation about history--and about the place of the past in the present--in terms other than those of righteous blame or liberal guilt."

Where to buy:

Deborah A. Thomas is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica and a co-editor of Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness, both also published by Duke University Press.


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