Citizenship from Below

Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom

Citizenship from Below

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: May 2012

Author: Mimi Sheller

Caribbean Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Sociology

Citizenship from Below boldly revises the history of the struggles for freedom by emancipated peoples in post-slavery Jamaica, post-independence Haiti, and the wider Caribbean by focusing on the interplay between the state, the body, race, and sexuality. Mimi Sheller offers a new theory of "citizenship from below" to describe the contest between "proper" spaces of legitimate high politics and the disavowed politics of lived embodiment. While acknowledging the internal contradictions and damaging exclusions of subaltern self-empowerment, Sheller roots out from beneath the historical archive traces of a deeper freedom, one expressed through bodily performances, familial relationships, cultivation of the land, and sacred worship.

Attending to the hidden linkages among intimate realms and the public sphere, Sheller explores specific struggles for freedom, including women's political activism in Jamaica; the role of discourses of "manhood" in the making of free subjects, soldiers, and citizens; the fiercely ethnonationalist discourses that excluded South Asian and African indentured workers; the sexual politics of the low-bass beats and "bottoms up" moves in the dancehall; and the struggle for reproductive and LGBT rights and against homophobia in the contemporary Caribbean. Through her creative use of archival sources and emphasis on the connections between intimacy, violence, and citizenship, Sheller enriches critical theories of embodied freedom, sexual citizenship, and erotic agency in all post-slavery societies.


Citizenship from Below is a sophisticated, challenging, and ambitious book…. Sheller’s book is a masterful demonstration of the multidirectional, complicated, and ongoing process by which citizenship is constructed, appropriated, defined, and inhabited.… This book will be important and illuminating reading for historians of the Caribbean, of sex and gender, of citizenship, broadly conceived. It is indispensible reading for scholars interested in the fraught process of citizenship after slave emancipation, in particular.” — Naomi J. Andrews, Itinerario

“[A] grounded, yet expansive contribution to the study of sexuality, citizenship and post-slavery societies.” — Kate Houlden, Anthurium

"[A]n extremely forceful and timely argument. . . . For Sheller, the exercise of sexual agency, while it may not necessarily transform the institutions through which inequalities have historically been structured, 'may enable some forms of maneuver, negotiation, and exchange' (p. 260). It is by training this lens on nineteenth-century Jamaica and Haiti that Sheller most profoundly complexifies traditional political histories of slavery, freedom, and citizenship. I believe this theoretical reframing is the most critical contribution of Citizenship from Below."  — Deborah A. Thomas, New West Indian Guide

 "A ground-breaking interdisciplinary achievement and contribution to the theory of freedom." — Aija Lulle, Anthropological Notebooks

"In the context, then, of our modern chaos of time, and its layers of silencing and abjections, Sheller’s text ultimately raises another important question for me: How can we be more ethically conscious de facto denizens in this violent and yet hopeful world?" — Michaeline Crichlow, Small Axe

"The bottom or (be)low is not only unaccounted for and perhaps uncredited in scholarship; it is also that which goes under the radar, underreported—barely noticed and often unmentioned but in need of being carefully considered." — Jafari Allen, Small Axe

"Citizenship from Below is an important contribution to debates about the complexities of citizenship, particularly in post-slavery, postcolonial societies. Mimi Sheller traces the relations between constructions of gender and sexuality, transnational and diasporic imaginaries, and the various incarnations of Caribbean societies, from the colonial to the postcolonial and nationalist. She expands our notion of citizenship by showing how it is constructed by the state over time amid changing circumstances, and by alternative politics and modes of belonging that emerge from 'below.'" — Deborah A. Thomas, author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica

"This is a stimulating, thought-provoking book of lasting significance to scholarship on the Caribbean, citizenship, sexuality, and embodiment. The way that Mimi Sheller puts the literatures on embodiment and citizenship into dialogue is impressive and important. After reading her analysis of these two bodies of scholarship, I will never again be able to think about one without considering the other. Citizenship from Below is a very distinguished book, one which will be widely read and discussed." — Diana Paton, co-editor of Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mimi Sheller is Professor of Sociology at Drexel University and the author of Democracy after Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti and Jamaica and Consuming the Caribbean: From Arawaks to Zombies.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. History from the Bottom(s) Up 19

2. Quasheba, Mother, Queen 48

3. Her Majesty's Sable Subjects 89

4. Lost Glimpses of 1865 114

5. Sword-Bearing Citizens 142

6. "You Signed My Name But Not My Feet" 166

7. Arboreal Landscapes of Power and Resistance 187

8. Returning the Tourist Gaze 210

9. Erotic Agency and a Queer Caribbean Freedom 239

Notes 281

Works Cited 305

Index 339
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4953-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4934-1
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