Disaster Narratives of Flood Experiences in Cap-Haitien, Haiti: An Anthropological Study

Disaster narratives engender cultural meaning, feature localized interpretations of suffering, and highlight a symbolic relationship to Haitian survival. This dissertation draws from 27 months of fieldwork and narrative research to explore flooding experiences and local perspectives on socio-economic and political life in Haiti. I pursued three objectives: (1) to identify common themes, categories, and associations regarding structural inequalities; (2) to document the collective discourses and understandings in public spaces that invoke the themes of agency or suffering; and (3) to locate spaces in Cap-Haitien and northern Haiti in which political discourses and citizenship are encouraged, expressed, and engaged on the individual and grassroots level. I collected disaster narratives from individuals located near or in the Mapou River in Cap-Haitien. I describe this peripheral area as a “frontier” to focus on space and place. Through anthropological methods and narrative research analysis, I argue that power and structural inequalities are integral dimensions of vulnerability and risk. I also posit that history, neoliberalism, and State governance shape the contours of risk for some of the most marginalized groups—particularly those located in river communities of northern Haiti. Therefore, emerged from this multi-vocal analysis of narratives are individual and collective experiences that reveal discussions of risk, personhood, and survivorship. In addition, as an African American-Haitian diasporic woman, I draw attention to the topics of positionality, reflexivity, and reciprocity to further my understanding of risk and vulnerability in Haiti. My project concludes with counter-narratives of suffering to highlight how Haitians articulate and manifest themselves against structural inequalities. I consider public, everyday expressions and practices that are culturally understood as vernacular agency. Agency challenges structure and suggests that suffering may not, in fact, be internalized within Haitian imagination, but confronted by concerned citizens of the Republic.

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