Chelsey Kivland on Street Politics in Urban Haiti

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While the physical #UAA2020 Annual Conference has been canceled, we’ve created this new online portal so you can take advantage of the book deals normally only given to conference attendees. Our featured International Studies books are now available to everyone with our special virtual booth forty percent discount—use the promo code 09EXP40 to save. Enjoy!

We asked author Chelsey L. Kivland three questions about her new book Street Sovereigns: Young Men and the Makeshift State in Urban Haiti, and her research on baz groups intervening in the contemporary Haitian political order.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

One of my favorite stories told in the book is in the conclusion. I recount when Dou, a main informant/collaborator, and I visited the Sprialist mural by the artist Frankétienne that stands at the border of my fieldsite of Bel Air. This was a pivotal moment in my research because it enabled me to grasp the spiral as a key Caribbean metaphor that could elaborate on the different aspects of sovereignty that I was trying to develop in the book. As I learned more about Spiralism as an artistic movement, I learned that the spiral is a symbol that can flip conventional ideas about time, space, and power. The spiral can indicate the nonlinearity of history, the way peripheries can influence centers, and the way the “small man” strives for power by linking oneself to allies from the neighborhood, to the city, all the way to the corridors of the state. 

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I wish I would have known that you need to sit with the material for a while before writing anything interesting about it, and to be patient with that process. It took me 6 years to write this book, and as I look back, I needed that time to think through the material in a profound way. 

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Urban studies?

I wish that there was more space for ethnographic research and writing. I find that with the move toward quantitative analysis, we are losing the personal stories that appeal to readers’ empathy and attach them to the lives of those our research is meant to ameliorate. I feel this is so important, especially in a political climate that feels so divided. I am glad to bring an ethnographic perspective to contemporary urban Haiti. 

Chelsey L. Kivland is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseyKivland.

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