Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Ida Susser

Committee Members

Marc Edelman

Yarimar Bonilla

Ismael García-Colón

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Puerto Rico, debt crisis, Hurricane Maria, disaster recovery, gender, social movements

Abstract

This study analyzes the politics and lived experiences of debt and climate disaster recovery in Puerto Rico. It examines mutual aid and debt resistance in relation to governance techniques and overlapping crises marked by the U.S. territory’s bankruptcy, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (2017), and culminating with popular mobilizations in the summer of 2019 that propelled the governor’s resignation. Tracing the ways that the post-hurricane social disaster and debt crisis are mutually constitutive, I investigate a case of women-led grassroots mutual aid organizing in the east-central municipality of Caguas, Puerto Rico and a political movement calling for a citizen audit of Puerto Rico’s $124 billion public debt. The study argues that while discourses and practices of official disaster governance operate through categories and evaluations that promote individualized resilience, the mutual aid project offers an alternative, grassroots framework of recovery that subverts the effects of austerity, collectivizes social reproductive labors, and engages in a politics of spatial rescue/occupation. I demonstrate that climate disaster revealed urgent questions of debt and bankruptcy and analyze how the demand for a citizen debt audit transformed into a political tool of accountability and reckoning. This study shows how people across generational cohorts and diverse political and class experience strategically engage with the state, expand our understandings of the temporality of disaster, and work through multiple meanings and effects of debt.

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