What’s on Our Nightstands: “Borders of Visibility—Haitian Migrant Women and the Dominican Nation-State” 


I am thrilled to have recently received a copy of Borders of Visibility: Haitian Migrant Women and the Dominican Nation-State (The University of Alabama Press, 2017) by Jennifer L. Shoaff, and I cannot wait to read it; it is on the top of my reading list for our upcoming winter break. Borders of Visibility—an anthropological study of Haitian migrant women’s mobility in the Dominican Republic—explores issues of visibility and invisibility— and, to a certain extent, mobility—across border sites.

Gina Athena Ulysse (author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle and Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist, and Self-Making in Jamaica) describes it as “a valuable anthropological gem that will have impact for years to come.” She adds, “This is much-needed, nuanced ethnography that takes the marginalized out of obscurity while exposing the extent to which their invisibility is a chimera.”

Description: Borders of Visibility offers extremely timely insight into the Dominican Republic’s racist treatment of Haitian descendants within its borders. Jennifer L. Shoaff employs multisited feminist research to focus on the geographies of power that intersect to inform the opportunities and constraints that migrant women must navigate to labor and live within a context that largely denies their human rights, access to citizenship, and a sense of security and belonging.

Paradoxically, these women are both hypervisible because of the blackness that they embody and invisible because they are marginalized by intersecting power inequalities. Haitian women must contend with diffuse legal, bureaucratic and discursive state-local practices across “border” sites that situate them as a specific kind of threat that must be contained. Shoaff examines this dialectic of mobility and containment across various sites in the northwest Dominican Republic, including the official border crossing, transborder and regional used-clothing markets, migrant settlements (bateyes), and other rural-urban contexts.

Shoaff combines ethnographic interviews, participant observation, institutional analyses of state structures and nongovernmental agencies, and archival documentation to bring this human rights issue to the fore. Although primarily grounded in critical ethnographic practice, this work contributes to the larger fields of transnational feminism, black studies, migration and border studies, political economy, and cultural geography. Borders of Visibility brings much needed attention to Haitian migrant women’s economic ingenuity and entrepreneurial savvy, their ability to survive and thrive, their often impossible choices whether to move or to stay, returning them to a place of visibility, while exposing the very structures that continue to render them invisible and, thus, expendable over time.

Jennifer L. Shoaff is a sociocultural anthropologist focusing on transnational feminist topics and studies of race in the Caribbean, particularly in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

For more information, see http://www.uapress.ua.edu/product/Borders-of-Visibility,6704.aspx

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