Yarimar Bonilla

Yarimar Bonilla

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Caribbean Studies, Rutgers University

Unpayable Debt: Capital, Violence, and the New Global Economy

PhD, U Chicago, 2008; Assistant Professor, SAS) Political and Historical Anthropology, Postcolonialism, Social Movements, Sovereignty, Citizenship; Caribbean, France


2008          Ph.D. Socio-Cultural Anthropology, University of Chicago
2003          M.A. Socio-Cultural Anthropology, University of Chicago
1998          M.A. Latin American Studies, University of New Mexico
1996          B.A. University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras


2011+        Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Caribbean Studies, Rutgers University
2008-11     Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
2006-08     Research Fellow, Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia


2010          Crystal Award for Best Dissertation, awarded by the Caribbean Studies Association
2009          Daniel F. Nugent Dissertation Prize for Distinguished Work in the field of Historical
                  Anthropology, awarded by the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology



I teach and write about social movements, political imaginaries, colonial legacies and historical memory in the non-sovereign Caribbean and the French Outremer. I focus particularly on the non-sovereign Caribbean: societies with lingering colonial relationships and ambiguous political identities that disrupt traditional understandings of citizenship, nationality, sovereignty, and autonomy. I am particularly attentive to the political possibilities that exist outside of the traditional rubrics of state and nation building, and to the formation of political identities that disrupt the assumed relationships between a land, a people, and a state. These concerns have combined with an interest in the role of history in the Caribbean political imagination, and the ways in which Caribbean populations understand and negotiate their past – particularly their experiences with colonialism and slavery.

My first book grounds these questions in an ethnographic study of labor activism in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. I argue that in the wake of what some describe as “failed” nationalist movements, a new kind of labor politics has emerged throughout the Former French colonies that combines the ideological and tactical repertoires of anti-colonial struggles with the political strength of the French labor tradition. The result is a form of “postcolonial syndicalism” that infuses traditional labor struggles with battles over collective memory, creole language politics, cultural revalorization, and nontraditional claims to self-determination. However, unlike the iconic forms of post-war anti-colonialism from which these labor movements emerged, these new political actors do not seek “national liberation” or political independence. Instead they are attempting to carve out alternative forms of political and economic autonomy within the context of French and European integration.

In addition to my work in Guadeloupe, I am also in the process of developing a larger program of comparative research in the non-sovereign Caribbean in order to re-theorize the colonial legacies and contemporary politics of the region. I contend that we need to examine non-sovereignty as a model, not just for non-independent territories, but also for the nominally sovereign territories within and beyond the Caribbean that are mired in postcolonial crises of structural adjustment, international trade regulations, NGO shadow states, post disaster recovery, and the (often inadvertent) effects of international aid. By approaching the region through the frame of the “non-sovereign” I seek to break with the linguistic divides that have plagued the field of Caribbean studies in order to bring together research on the French, English, Spanish, and Dutch speaking Caribbean and to highlight points of commonality in both the historical trajectories and contemporary political forms and processes of the region.


2011          The Past Is Made by Walking: Labor Activism and Historical Production in
                  Postcolonial Guadeloupe. Cultural Anthropology 26(3):313–339

2010          Guadeloupe Is Ours. The Prefigurative Politics of the Mass Strike in the French
                  Antilles.  Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 12(1):125-137

2010          Puerto Rico in Crisis: Government Workers Battle Against Neoliberal Reform (written
                  with Rafael Boglio) NACLA Report on the Americasforthcoming January 43(1):6-8

2009          Guadeloupe on Strike: A New Political Chapter in the French Antilles. NACLA Report on
                  the Americas 42(3):6-10

2009          Labor and Protest in Guadeloupe. International Encyclopedia of Revolution and
                  Protest. Immanuel Ness, Ed. Blackwell pp 1468-1471