Intimate Witnessing: Mapping State Violence on the Social Body, Kingston 2010

Deborah A. Thomas (Penn)
10/30/2013

On 24 May 2010, Jamaican police and military forces entered the community of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston in order to apprehend Christopher “Dudus” Coke, purported leader of the Shower Posse and “don” of the community, but by the end of the week, Dudus had not yet been found and at least 73 civilians had been killed. Despite the activities of various civil society organizations and the release in April of an interim report by the Public Defender, those who lost their lives have not yet been publicly recognized, and officials and individuals responsible for these deaths have not yet been called to account. Since January this year, I have been working collaboratively on a multi-media installation project designed to provide a platform through which participating Tivoli Gardens and neighboring community members can recount their experiences during May and June 2010, and name and publicly memorialize loved ones they lost. The project is meant to contribute to a healing process in which historical silences are broken through audio and visual forms of storytelling, while also contributing to theoretical analyses of the relationships between spectacular and everyday forms of violence, the production of visual archives, and the gendered dimensions of witnessing.

In this paper, I focus on how bearing witness to state violence can give us windows into the world of the everyday in two senses. First, by listening to people recount what happened to them and what the effects have been, we get a sense of the everyday forms of structural violence that both provide the foundation for the exceptional eruption and shape how they experience aftermaths. And second, we can read between the lines of these kinds of testimonies in order to also understand how people have negotiated processes of governance, histories of simultaneous marginalization and exceptional excellence, and aspirations for themselves and their families. I am particularly interested, here, in the ways attention to the sphere of intimacy – the small, domestic, pedestrian stories – both gives us a window into the gendered dimensions of spectacular and structural violence, and produces particular desires related to social and political life.

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