Association for Feminist Anthropology
Association of Black Anthropologists
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Questions of how to live a life of scholarship and activism that challenges the continuing barriers of gender, race, class and imperial power are at the fore of contemporary anthropology. In constructing an anthropology that speaks to our troubled times we can turn to the life and work of scholar-activists who forged pathways that resonate today. With Connie Sutton’s passing in August 2018 at the age of 92, we lost a pioneer of Caribbeanist anthropology and a political and social activist who advocated for racial and gender justice internationally. Sutton’s pathbreaking dissertation analyzed a black Barbadian sugar cane workers’ wildcat strike, theorizing the workers as actors on a world stage. This set the tone for her career of engagment with local and extra-local voices and perspectives on power, politics, and struggles for social change. She deepened this commitment with her research on gender and power in the Caribbean and West Africa, which included critical dialogue with Eleanor Leacock’s Marxist-Feminist anthropology, and research on the relationship of gender to nationalism and militarism. Moreover, her early development of the frame of transnationalism and transnational migration in conceptualizing the movement of Caribbean people to the United States challenged bounded thinking about territory and culture, thinking that had been shaped by methodological nationalism and dominant scholars' political acceptance of nation-state building projects.
Sutton’s scholarship raised broad questions about positionality in area and colonial studies, and challenged male-centric authorial voice in “writing culture” more generally. She was committed to collaboration and collectivity, and to highlighting the scholarship of working-class people, women, people of color, Caribbean and Latin American scholars, and early students of transnational migration – perspectives that have often been ignored and erased within mainstream anthropology. Besides academy work, Sutton was a significant participant in the International Women’s Movement through her theorization of women’s collective action, and founding role in the International Women’s Anthropology Conference (IWAC) and worked together with many Caribbean and non-Western women activists and scholars in pushing forward these concerns. Posthumously, the New York Times featured her among “5 Women Who Change Our Thinking About Race.”
Sutton fostered, and collaborated with, generations of Caribbeanists as a faculty member within the NYU Department of Anthropology, a long-standing member of the Caribbean Studies Association, a long-term member of the Advisory Committee of the Anthropology Section of the NY Academy of Science, and during appointments at universities in the West Indies, Nigeria, and India. She sought justice in confronting the scholarly barriers to legitimacy and empowerment that have silenced the voices of women and other oppressed groups, even as she felt the effects of these barriers on her own scholarship and reputation. This session, therefore, reflects on the changing climates within which Sutton engaged with anthropological theory, practice and activism. Each presenter focuses on one of Sutton’s publications, highlighting its significance to their own work, and to the field as a whole. We thus track Sutton’s influence theoretically, topically and regionally.