UCL Institute of the Americas


Political Socialities: Affect and Everyday Activism in Hell Yard, Trinidad

05 June 2019, 5:30 pm–8:00 pm

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This event is free.

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Daisy Voake


Institute of the Americas
51 Gordon Square
United Kingdom

What does political life look like when it is not read in the context of collectives like parties, unions, movements, NGOs, or the trope of resistance? Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the Beetham, an impoverished neighbourhood in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, this paper approaches the politics of the urban poor by looking into everyday acts, gestures and discussions aimed at community-building and eventually, social justice. Activists in the Beetham thought about their futures and worked toward their objectives within sets of fluid, malleable and varied social relations to family, friends, neighbours, politicians, gang leaders and strongmen, saints, deities and spirits. These socialities, rather than pre-existing and fixed collectives based on a common identity or cause, were the primary context for acting and thinking politically. Investigating the development of political subjects in socialities of differently situated people and spirits, I pay attention to culturally meaningful forms of love experienced and expressed within such relations. The paper explores three activists’ affective socialities as sources of a temporal orientation, sense of self, social skills and emotional intelligence crucial to the activists’ political work in the Beetham. They worked towards “bringing people together,” for example by creating safe spaces for discussion, with the long-term objective of building a community. Unlike the fluid and heterogenous socialities that fostered activists’ work, the community they sought to build was a temporally and spatially located collective with shared experiences of structural violence and oppression, and possibly shared visions for a different future.

About the Speaker

Maarit Forde

Maarit Forde is a senior lecturer in cultural studies and the head of the Department of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine. Her research and teaching have focused on the anthropology of religion and political anthropology particularly in the Caribbean and its diaspora. In recent publications, she has looked into the government and politics of religion and healing in the colonial Caribbean; death and mortuary rituals; and the civic engagement of the urban poor. Passages and Afterworlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Death in the Caribbean was published last year by Duke University Press. Maarit is currently on sabbatical leave and visiting the University of Tampere in Finland, working on a book manuscript on subject formation and political activism in urban Trinidad.