The Other Earthquake: Janil Lwijis, Student Social Movements, and the Politics of Memory in Haiti

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ABSTRACT

This dissertation develops a political ecology of suburban peasants to describe the lives of Haitian farmers residing in a neighborhood on the margins of Port-au-Prince. The category of suburban peasants has been well described for Chinese small-scale farmers but has yet to be applied elsewhere as an analytic category. Using participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and in-depth, key informant interviews, an ethnographic account is provided of changes in agricultural practices made by Haitian peasants as a result of environmental changes that impact their ability to make a living in contemporary Haiti. Farmers’ primary concerns are related to an increased need for agrochemicals because of declining soil fertility, but increased fertilizer prices make this a significant barrier to their economic activities. In addition, the influx of non-Haitians into the neighbourhood has resulted in less available land to farm. In many cases worldwide, these two challenges have led to out-migration patterns, either within-country rural-urban migration or to another country altogether. Yet, in the study site, this is not happening. The changes in agricultural practices that the Dounet peasants have made, like changing to wage-based labour and occupational multiplicity, have also created greater poverty, in which they are more vulnerable to the risks associated with environmental change while at the same time rendered immobile in the face of future extreme environmental events. This study uses the suburban peasant concept to explore how environmental changes simultaneously intersect with urbanization processes like the enclosure of land and changes in rural land use.

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