Accepted paper:

Mitigating uncertainty with trust and respect in banana-growing communities on the Dominican-Haitian border


Kimberly Wynne (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among Dominican and Haitian neighbors and coworkers in the Dominican Republic, I show how a national issue of border insecurity and economic dependency is negotiated at the local level and how moralities are enacted through the everyday mitigation of mistrust.

Paper long abstract:

Haitians have long been migrating to the Dominican side of Hispaniola to fill the country's demand for workers in the production of agricultural exports. Though Haitian migrants and their descendants have become a significant part of the population, their presence sparks an ongoing debate as the state struggles to balance the economic need for migrant workers with the political desire to exclude Haitians from Dominican society. In this paper I show how this balancing act is negotiated at the local level among Dominicans and Haitians who rely on each other for economic gain. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in small banana-growing communities of northwestern Dominican Republic, I explore how Dominican residents negotiate the nagging threat of residing and working among Haitian migrants whose numbers are steadily increasing. In spite of an acknowledged economic dependency, Dominican residents feel threatened by the unregulated flow of Haitians into their communities. I argue that Dominican residents cope with their feelings of distrust and uncertainty by cultivating a moral superiority over their Haitian neighbors through everyday activities such as joking, gossiping, and personal grooming. The careful balance of trust and respect necessary for economic livelihoods breaks down when a moral transgression occurs such as the physical or spiritual attack of a Dominican by a Haitian. A process of moral reasoning follows as residents attempt to restore a sense of security. By focusing on moments of moral reflection, I shed light on how residents coping with precarity creatively respond to moral shifts impacting their communities.

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