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The College of Arts Sciences

Music, Performance, and Spirituality Reveal Meaningful Networks

January 5, 2017

Anthropology PhD Candidate Elena Guzman was awarded a Society for the Humanities Graduate Research Grant and an Einaudi Travel research grant  for her project:  Performances on the Fringes:  Cross Border Bodies and Dialogues between Haiti and Dominican Republic.  

Please see Elena's update on this project below:

Currently I am writing my dissertation for research that took place from 2015-2016. This research was supported by both the Society for the Humanities Graduate Research Grant and Einaudi Travel research grant

The history between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has often been portrayed as tumultuous; whether through metaphors of fighting cocks or a divided island, scholars have highlighted the significant presence of anti-Haitianism in the Dominican Republic. For the Dominican Republic, during President Trujillo’s regime, anti-Haitianism represented a cornerstone of Dominican national identity and the effects continue to linger today. In 2013, the Dominican Tribunal court ruled hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless as far back as 1929. Many fled out of fear for their lives and were deported or sent to camps along the border. Despite this tumultuous history scholars are calling for narratives that not only highlight the rife moments but also moments that highlight collaboration and alternative narratives between the two countries in an effort to chart future possibilities.

The research conducted with this grant was a part of a 12-month ethnographic project for my dissertation research on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In my research I use music, performance, and spirituality as significant sites of anthropological inquiry that reveals meaningful networks and collaboration between Haitians and Dominicans.

The first portion of this research focused on the genres of Haitian and Dominican Rara/Gaga and performances during carnival and the Rara season in order to ethnographically determine the ways Dominicans and Haitians reimagine their selves individually and collectively in relation to their nations, history, and identity through music, performance, and spiritual practices. The second portion of this research ventured into the realm of “performances of the everyday” by seeking out other spaces that revealed the complicated nexus of Haitian and Dominican relations. Performances of the everyday, or the way people go about performing their identities and selves on an everyday basis, lead me to disparate spaces connected under the theoretical umbrella of performance. This included carnival and how identity was celebrated on national stages, the repatriate camps and how Dominicanicad was performed for foreigners and NGOs, Protests at the border as a form of call and response to the state, among many other different sites of performance. 


Elena Guzman is a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology.  She did her undergraduate degree at CUNY Hunter College majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Africana Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. Her research interests include Caribbean dance and music, feminist and activist practice, blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean, and ethnographic film.