Capture and Abandon: Jamaican Land Invasions and Paradise Laid Waste

Authors: Rachel Goffe*, CUNY GC
Topics: Cultural Geography, Economic Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: informal tenure, squatting, postcolonial state, Blackness, land, dispossession, Black refusal
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon D3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the “differentiated displacement” (Doshi 2012) of long-term informal residents by looking at ongoing policy development to curtail squatting, and residents’ efforts to resist dispossession. Scholarship about informal settlements tends to understand dispossession as a project of the neoliberal state. I argue it is strategically necessary to elucidate the ways in which insecure land access is not novel, but enabled the emergence of a Black labor force that was historically, and in some ways still is, self-sufficient and yet ready-at-hand, reproducing themselves through what I—following Sylvia Wynter (1971)—call “working a plot.”

This paper is based on ethnographic research at a settlement where residents were served with eviction notices. As with other recent evictions in Jamaica, the settlement was seen as conflicting with a new resort. A former sugar estate, the site now lies at the interface between land made surplus by agricultural disinvestment and a boom in tourism development.

I argue that uneven dispossession has something to do with the recuperation of a sanitized version of the Black small farmer. Judged against this respectable figure, the “illegal squatter” is not recognized as a descendant of Black refusal. This paper focuses on the futurity of capture: beyond merely possessing a square of land, or meeting one’s basic needs, the capture of land is about inserting oneself adjacent to Jamaica’s emerging landscapes of development; the very instability of capturing land reveals a deeper opposition to the concept of property-in-land than is made apparent in other scholarship about Black Jamaicans.

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