Jovan Scott Lewis

Assistant Professor
Ph.D., London School of Economics
Economic geography, constructions and infrastructures of poverty, inequality, race (blackness), economy, and the market; the Caribbean (esp. Jamaica) and African-American communities

563 McCone Hall

I am an Assistant Professor of African-American Studies and Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as the co-chair of the Economic Disparities Research Cluster at Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society (HIFIS). I received my Ph.D. in Anthropology from the London School of Economics.

My research examines race through the economic ethics, rationalizations, and practices that organize the lived experience of poverty and inequality in the Caribbean and the United States. My work in Jamaica, where I conducted research on what I called the “sufferation” economy, explored the social practices and cultural forms that facilitate the locating, reconciling, and normalizing of structural economic and social inequality through local market frames. My current research in Tulsa, Oklahoma is concerned with how the poor navigate the structural and infrastructural frictions of their poverty. I am currently planning a future project, “The Fourth Node: Global Shipping Logistics and the Political Ecology of Kingston Harbor.” “The Fourth Node” will analyze Jamaican development, nationalism, and ecological sovereignty through the privatization of Kingston Harbor and nearby nature sanctuary, Goat Islands, in Jamaica’s bid to become the fourth node in the global logistics shipping chain.

Across these various geographies, my interests remain situated within the landscape of adverse economic circumstances, at scales ranging from the ethical to the global, especially when the adversity is the result of racial inequality, or a more structural economic deficiency or failure. I am especially interested in how race frames the experiences of those challenges and how a lack of resources is reconciled through attempts to rectify or simply cope with its absence. This theme runs through my published work, as well as my current book project,  provisionally titled, Reparative Circuits: Crime, Capital and Postcolonial Connection in Jamaica.  Reparative Circuits examines how disadvantaged black youth in Jamaica engaged in the practice of international “lottery scamming” mobilize a reparative logic of seizure in utilizing the development apparatuses of internet communication technology,  customer service procedures, and money transfer services, to secure economic and social mobility.

Understanding the means of coping with inequality and economic adversity, and how their internalization produces cultural forms, provides a productive understanding of how they operate and become socially and economically mobilized. This philosophy is central to my work as co-chair of the Economic Disparities Research Cluster at HIFIS, where I bring anthropological and geographic insight to bear on debates on inequality.