Memory, urban violence and performance in Jamaica: The Problem

Over the last ten years, there has been an explosion of interest in inner city violence internationally. Governments operating in places as varied as Kingston, Jamaica; Bogota, Colombia; London, England and Toronto, Canada have created instruments to measure, surveil and intervene in the problem. There are growing financial investments in addressing the problem (as in the case of Plan Colombia) and in developing transnational approaches to its management.

This study is about the side of inner city violence that escapes the official reports.  How I ask, do victims of violence from different social and political locations in Jamaican communities mourn, remember and forget the losses inflicted by violence?  I look for answers to this question in the tensions and conflicts underlying performances such as protests against violence, vigils, elite social spectacles, dance and drama. What might we learn from these shifting and embodied images about how communities and individuals simultaneously justify and resist the reproduction of inner city violence and how might this inform efforts to address the social injustices underlying it in the contemporary context?

According to a number of scholars embodied performances can constitute a dialogue and renegotiation of transmitted knowledge into an alternative present (Roach, 1996; Taylor, 2003.) Geoffrey Hartman (Newman, 2003) argues that forms of cultural memory developed from the statements of witnesses to horrific acts of human suffering incite demands for justice, reparation and restitution. Hartman argues that these memories must contain two contradictory impulses:  they assert demands for justice while containing the demand for apocalyptic judgement and punishing retribution. Taylor (2003) argues that in the colonized societies of the Americas embodied performances often transmit cultural memory and are more than mere objects of study; they functions as an episteme, or a way of knowing. Thus performance is that which disappears or remains present, transmitted through a nonarchival system of knowledge that cannot be easily captured outside of embodied interaction. How we remember, what we remember and how we perform these memories can be an exercise in presenting alternatives, negotiating and constructing a collectively held vision of community and social justice.
Honor Ford-Smith


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