Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation

Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 50 color illustrations Published: November 2019

Anthropology, Caribbean Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In 2010, Jamaican police and military forces entered the West Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens to apprehend Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who had been ordered for extradition to the United States on gun and drug-running charges. By the time Coke was detained, somewhere between seventy-five and two hundred civilians had been killed. In Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation, Deborah A. Thomas uses the incursion as a point of departure for theorizing the roots of contemporary state violence in Jamaica and in post-plantation societies in general. Drawing on visual, oral historical, and colonial archives, Thomas traces the long-term legacies of the plantation system and how its governing logics continue to shape and replicate forms of violence. She places affect at the center of sovereignty to destabilize disembodied narratives of liberalism and progress and to raise questions about recognition, repair, and accountability. In tying theories of politics, colonialism, race, and affect together with Jamaica's history, Thomas presents a robust framework for understanding what it means to be human in the plantation's wake.


“In this ambitious, methodologically innovative, remarkable book, Deborah A. Thomas offers a startlingly original engagement with the affective circuits supporting life in Jamaican neighborhoods that are ongoing sites of state-based violence, covert geopolitical intrigue, and narcopolitics. Through all this, Thomas argues for the power of a redemptive politics and offers a guide to how life after the plantation informs the present.” — Joseph Masco, author of The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror

“With an exemplary humanity and grace interwoven with a critical and reparative hopefulness, Deborah A. Thomas's Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation meditates on the fateful violences of postcolonial sovereignty. Across the arc of the book's specific preoccupations, Thomas pursues a receptive sensibility to dimensions of cultural, political, and moral life very often obscured by the conventions of disciplinary investigation, and in so doing she offers us not only a revisionary story of the Jamaican past in the present but a model of restorative thinking.” — David Scott, Columbia University

“This is a powerful and persuasive remapping of the contours of black lifeworlds and sovereignty under colonial and national rule and in the face of brutal state violence. Deborah A. Thomas is innovative and creative in her insistence that only alternative archives will reveal the importance of black refusal and significance of affect, and she is passionate in her arguments for ethical practices of witnessing. A remarkable book that should be read by everyone who thinks black life matters.” — Hazel V. Carby, Yale University

"Witnessing Jamaica with an affective register provides an essential standpoint from which to recognize African diasporic people’s lived reality, and compels us to reimagine—affectively—the possibilities for social repair. Recommended. Researchers and faculty." — R. Chopra, Choice


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Deborah A. Thomas is R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica and Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and Politics of Culture in Jamaica, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  xi
Introduction. Humanness in the Wake of the Plantation  1
1. Doubt  22
Interlude I. Interrogating Imperialism  67
2. Expectancy  88
Interlude II. Naming Names  133
3. Paranoia  151
Coda. The End of the World as We Know It  207
Acknowledgments  223
Notes  229
References  269
Index  293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

 Joint Winner of the 2020 American Ethnological Society (AES) Senior Book Prize

Runner-up, 2020 Gregory Bateson Prize, presented by the Society for Cultural Anthropology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0669-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0601-5