Date of Award

8-2005

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Anthropology

Major Professor

Faye V. Harrison

Committee Members

Benita J. Howell, Handel Kashope Wright, Mariana Leal Ferreira

Abstract

Gated communities throughout the Sea Islands of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida represent a postcolonial attempt at reinventing the plantation of the white imagination. Upon these contested landscapes, incompatible, historically transmitted epistemologies result in an ongoing power struggle between money and memory. Gullah/Geechee communities, descended from enslaved West and Central Africans whose exploited labor made world capitalism a social reality, inherited these islands at Emancipation and became self sufficient, isolated communities. A century later, the development of Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina would begin a trend of encroachment that has steadily gained momentum into the twenty first century. Within this cultural and political economy of racism, the Gullah have experienced overwhelming exploitation of their sociocultural institutions, resulting in land loss, economic and political marginalization, and forced acculturation that violate their universal human rights. This ongoing struggle against coloniality connects the Gullah to other diasporic communities encountering varying predicaments of white racism, couched in rhetorics of difference. Their response embodies an African spirit of resistance and survival that has brought them thus far.

The spatial segregation of the Sea Islands has been accompanied by a romanticized reinterpretation of the "Old South" and the Lowcountry plantation. For the Gullah, this practice has translated into a reinvention of history that denies the collective memories intimately linking them to these recently appropriated spaces. This type of power-mediated use of space for purposes of exclusion reinforces a system of white privilege, thereby mapping racialized social inequalities onto the physical and cultural landscape.

This critical ethnographic analysis is a contribution to African Diaspora studies, framed within a reflexive political economy. Theoretically and methodologically, the findings of this research seek to contribute to five specific areas of anthropological inquiry: the anthropology of racism and race making as sites of cultural and political-economic struggle; the anthropology of space and place; critical interrogations of power, particularly as power relates to the production of knowledge and inventions of history; whiteness as the contemporary manifestation of coloniality; and experimental methods of ethnographic inquiry.

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