In this talk, I will interrogate the afterlives of imperialism in the language of epochal shift, and I will position the endpoint of this shift as the death of the West, its models of sovereignty, and its conventions of knowledge production. I will probe aspects of this shift in relation to the project of anthropology, a discipline central to the solidification of Western ontological and epistemological categories. New World colonization was foundational not merely to the construction of the dominance of the West, but also to the disciplines that would legitimate the hierarchies of humanity created in and through the new forms of production and labor organization that emerged with the development of plantation-based agriculture and settler colonialism. The current challenge has to do, in part, with the resurgence of China on the global stage, and is also signaled by a new spatial and temporal organization of policing and control, and by new modalities of knowledge production that in turn produce new audiences and mandate new forms of accountability. If we are witnessing the development of a new geopolitical condition, we must also develop new theoretical frames. By reflecting on my current research in Jamaica, I will think through the challenges posed by the contemporary condition in a way that is also designed to exemplify a decolonial vision for knowledge production substantially informed by transnational black and queer feminist critique.
Deborah A. Thomas is the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, and the Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation, Exceptional Violence, and Modern Blackness. Thomas co-directed the documentary films Bad Friday, and Four Days in May, and she is the co-curator of a multi-media installation titled Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston. She is the editor of American Anthropologist.
Vernamfield, Jamaica – Deborah Thomas
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