Performing Ethnicity as a Way of Contesting Removals: Bureaucratic Strategies and Affirmation of Busikonde Ways of Dwelling in Soolan (French Guiana)

In: Maroon Cosmopolitics

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Ethnicity is contextual: it is permanently redefined according to the situation and the power relations involved. In Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, a city in French Guiana on the border with Suriname, many working-class Maroons live in various types of dwelling on the outskirts of the city. Their ways of living result partly from the economic, racial and national exclusion they face, but also from specific ways of dwelling on both sides of the Maroni river. Their houses are stigmatized by the authorities, who see them as “insanitary” dwellings that need to be eradicated. In this urban context, where the inhabitants face a racialized spatial domination as manifested through removals, these houses become defined in ethnic terms as Busikonde osu (Maroon house). Building on the concept of performance by Judith Butler, the aim of this paper is to look at the ways in which Maroon urban ethnicity, performed through urban forms, can constitute a resource for contesting demolition. I will specifically analyze practices and discourses of inhabitants and public agents in the negotiations that take place in a situation of demolition. Faced with the stigmatization of their homes, the affirmation of an urban Maroon way of life constitutes an alternative to the French-inspired dominant norm.