Moral Geographies of (Re-)Existence: A Comparative Analysis of Socio-cultural Projects from Afro-descendant Communities in Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia)

Researcher:

Valerie Gruber

Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) are not only hubs of cultural creativity and (re)invention, but also traumatic places of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans. While the colonial centers of both cities are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage, many people of African descent live in self-organized neighborhoods located off the beaten track, such as ‘favelas’ in Brazil or ‘barrios populares’ in Colombia. This research sheds light on socio-cultural community projects that use Afro-diasporic music, dance and other cultural expressions to mitigate problems related to racism, exclusion, juvenile delinquency, and limited access to education and the labor market. As these initiatives come from neighborhoods stigmatized as poor and dangerous, they are mainly invisible to the tourist gaze, which is often limited to commodified versions of Afro culture.

 

With a particular focus on the communities of Uruguai (Salvador) and Barrio Chino (Cartagena), my research analyzes dynamics of socio-spatial transformation, enabling and restricting conditions for self-organized change, and the visions of a good life underlying these initiatives. The comparative design adopted for this work is composed of participatory action research, ethnographic and documentary methods. This innovative triangulation allows for a reflexive co-creation of knowledge that integrates local communities into joint reflections, and stimulates mutual learning processes across the African diaspora. My overarching goal is to break new ground in the field of moral geographies by developing a substantiated conceptualization of Afro-Latin American urban (re-)existence, which brings epistemologies of the Global South into dialogue with those of the Global North.