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Jamaican river waters: Collapsing time and the politics of rural life-making

Anne M. Galvin
Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, St. John’s University, New York, United States; galvina@stjohns.edu

ABSTRACT: The Black River, which runs through the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, is an ecological, agricultural and aquaculture resource and a source of drinking water. Research among residents and workers highlights the ways in which river waters become layered with meanings and uses in the postcolonial setting of former plantation economies. Time collapses within the landscape as river geographies house, and are reconfigured by, sediments of colonial European settlement, plantation slavery, recent industrial histories, and continuities of rural subsistence. River social geographies are shaped by historical shifts in governance and economics under racio-colonial capitalist systems that grew out of plantation slavery. How have the logics of colonisation that created sugar plantations shaped physical and social geographies surrounding river water in contemporary agricultural districts? In what ways have contemporary global capitalist industries like rum production affected Jamaican river waters and how have they operated on top of pre-existing riverine social geographies? This research explores the negotiation of rural Jamaican life-making norms – including subsistence fishing and farming practices – in relation to river waters, as understood by private citizens and other political actors. It examines the multiple registers that river water occupies in rural Jamaican life and the complex water politics that grows out of collapsing time within the post-plantation rural landscape of Jamaica.

KEYWORDS: Caribbean, postcolonial temporality, plantation protocapitalism, river water, political ecology, Jamaica