11/05/2016: GTD Colloquium “A living fence: Inequality and the mobility of people, things, and money across the Haiti-Dominican Republic border” by Erin B. Taylor (University of Lisbon)

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Date(s) - 11/05/16
3:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Grote Gracht 80-82, Spiegelzaal (Soiron Building) Maastricht


A living fence: Inequality and the mobility of people, things, and money across the Haiti-Dominican Republic border

By Erin B. Taylor (University of Lisbon)

Globalisation, Transnationalism & Development (GTD) Colloquium organized in association with Maastricht Centre for Citizenship, Migration and Development (MACIMIDE)


Scholars have long recognized that there is a relationship between socioeconomic mobility and actual mobility. The mobility in “socioeconomic mobility” is no mere metaphor; rather, it is indicative of just how strongly our position in society and the market is tied to materiality. Much like Amartya Sen’s (2000) observation that freedom begets other freedoms, forms of mobility beget other mobilities. Migration can open up access to economic and educational opportunities not available in one’s own town or country, transforming the lifestyle of migrants and of future generations. The movement of things is just as important: successful trading brings in profit and permits one to climb the socioeconomic hierarchy. Mobility can, however, also have negative consequences. Whether mobility is beneficial or harmful depends upon the extent to which people have control over it, how they use it, and how it is deployed by others. I will address the relationship between mobility and inequality through a case study of the Dominican-Haitian national border. I borrow the term “living fence” from Sidney Mintz (1962), who used it to describe the hedges that demarcate the boundaries of the Lakou (homestead) in the Haitian countryside. The living fence is an apt metaphor for the experience of living on the border. At once porous and closed, inclusive and exclusive, the border is far more than a container; it also facilitates productive activities, and it often invites rather than repels visitors. Moreover, the border is constituted as much by the people and objects that cross it daily as much as it is by state regulation. Conceptualizing the border region as a “living fence” enables us to explore how it shapes and reshapes Dominican-Haitian relations, which ebb, flow, and change over time as new financial, technological, and economic opportunities enter the ecology.

Dr. Erin B. Taylor is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. Her research focuses on material culture and financial practices in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She is the author of Materializing Poverty: How the Poor Transform their Lives (2013, Altamira), and the editor of Fieldwork Identities in the Caribbean (2010, Caribbean Studies Press). Since 2010, Taylor has been conducting collaborative research on mobile phones, mobile money, markets and migration in Haiti, funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI). She is also the Managing Editor of PopAnth.com and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Cultural Economy. Taylor blogs regularly about her research on her website, http://erinbtaylor.com. ​

Upcoming GTD Colloquium:

– June 1: Paul Silverstein, Reed College.