Exceptional Violence

Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica

Exceptional Violence

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 11 illustrations Published: October 2011

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Caribbean Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

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.


Exceptional Violence is a complicated study.... In her analysis of the way anthropology deals with violence, slavery, inequity, crime, and so on, Thomas demonstrates broad reading and a highly critical mind.” — Gert Oostindie, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Exceptional Violence… serves as a helpful resource for literary scholars and cultural critics specializing in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and postcolonial studies.” — Tzarina T. Prater, MELUS

“The volume… [is] an academic engagement of the imagination, possibly the last bastion for generating some creative insights into what ails Jamaica generally.” — Ralph Premdas, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“What is most impressive about this ethnography is Thomas’s ability to consistently link her work to an existing body of scholarship in the various fields on which she draws in developing her analysis. This is a well-researched book that offers a thorough engagement with relevant scholarship. It is a key part of the global conversation on violence and reparations in the African Diaspora.” — Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

 “In Sum, Thomas’ treatment of violence in the Caribbean offers an alternative perspective not just on curbing violence, but on understanding avenues for social changes….This book achieves its goal of generating a new understanding of community and citizenship, as well as new notions of participation and organization.”  — Marlyn J. Jones, Canadian Journal of History

Exceptional Violence is a theoretically sophisticated examination of contemporary Jamaica, with much to offer students of postcolonialism, anthropology, transnationalism, and the African diaspora.”  — Mark Anderson, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"[This text] expertly illuminate[s] links between history and present, political structure and neoliberal-capitalist machine..." — Caribbean Studies

"I recommend this book to all persons from varied and interlocking disciplines of critical theory, critical race theory, politics, economics, history, and philosophy.... Additionally, any person keen on making informed and constructive contributions to discussions about issues that shape within the United States should visit Thomas’s work and learn from her." — Julian Ledford, Ameriquests

“Deborah A. Thomas’s Exceptional Violence is at once methodologically astute, richly researched, and critically engaged. In reframing the historical object of violence in Jamaica, she enables us to see hitherto obscured dimensions of its embodied constitution as social practice and social imaginary, its relation to citizenship and gender, the state and community, racial subjectivities and transnational migrations. It is a fine achievement.” — David Scott, Columbia University

“In this supremely engaging book, Deborah A. Thomas puts to rest a number of procrustean, often racist, preconceptions about violence in Jamaica and, by extension, other postcolonies. Arguing persuasively against ‘culturalist’ explanations, she seeks to make sense of the incidence of and the preoccupation with violence in Jamaica by placing that violence in its proper historical context—one that turns out to be highly complex, deeply entangled, and temporally disjunctive. But Thomas does more than this. She opens up a window into the very soul of Jamaica and its diasporas, examining how Jamaicans today envisage and make their futures; how new, embodied forms of subjectivity and citizenship are being practiced and performed; and how we may understand the role of ‘culture’ and representation in these processes. Exceptional Violence is the kind of book from which not only every anthropologist but every intelligent reader will learn something worth knowing. And worth thinking deeply about.” — John Comaroff, University of Chicago and the American Bar Foundation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Moving Bodies 1

1. Dead Bodies, 2004–2005 23

2. Deviant Bodies, 2005/1945 53

3. Spectacular Bodies, 1816/2007 87

4. Public Bodies, 2003 125

5. Resurrected Bodies, 1963/2007 173

CODA Repairing Bodies 221

Notes 239

References 257

Index 289
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5086-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5068-2
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