6047 Silsby Hall
Hanover, NH 03755
chelsey.l.kivland at dartmouth.edu
As a cultural anthropologist, I strive to understand how and why people find meaning and value in political expression. I am fascinated by the way political power is both feared and desired, contested and embraced, and the culturally unique ways in which people perceive, perform, and relate to this ambivalence. This line of enquiry inevitably concerns the moral and cultural dimensions of force and authority, and as such, my work addresses the roles that values, gender, affect, ritual, and violence play in shaping state power and political imaginaries. I primarily trace these issues through my ongoing ethnography of street politics in urban Haiti, though my area of specialization encompasses the Caribbean region and Afro-Atlantic culture. I teach and write in the areas of popular politics; anthropology of the state and sovereignty; ritual performance; embodiment and performativity; Vodou; carnival and crowd theory; anthropology of violence and misery; masculinity; youth; race and nation; anthropology of Haiti and the Caribbean; ethnographic methods and writing.
I have a background in performance, social sciences, and education. I studied dance and sociology as an undergraduate at Colorado College, earned an M.A. in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and completed the Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago. My dissertation involved extensive fieldwork with carnival and rara street bands in Bel Air, an impoverished, downtown neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. I specifically examined the role that street politics and popular performance play in quests for respect among the leaders and affiliates of these bands. Contrary to scholarly and popular perceptions, I argued that these men's expressive politics are not examples of resistance against a powerful, repressive state so much as attempts to construct political authority and duty amid widespread perceptions of statelessness. A key insight I draw from this case concerns the relationship between ethics and politics. I consider not only how ethics drives politics, but also how political action is a condition of possibility for a respectful or dignified way of life.
My current book project builds on my dissertation to provide an ethnographic account of "the base," the novel socio-political formation that has arisen in urban Haiti during the democratic transition. While often misconstrued as a gang, the base is in fact a local network of youth organizations, spiritual societies, street bands, and armed, criminal actors that collectively occupies a degree of economic and political authority over a particular neighborhood crossroads. My book will follow a single base, tracing how its leaders establish themselves as a politicized, militant community, on the one hand, and how they serve as the popular base for broader political networks, on the other. I aim to understand this process as an enactment of what I call vernacular sovereignty, a two-sided project that concerns a desire for local control and moral entitlements, and hence symbolizes aspirations for relative autonomy.
Last Updated: 10/2/12