Culture, language, and activism:

Conceiving Garífuna Educational Sovereignty in Livingston, Guatemala



My study aims to document and examine the ways that indigenous, Garifuna people in Livingston, Guatemala (“Labuga” in Garifuna) manage the complexities of linguistic and cultural revitalization and indigenous and national belonging through community-based projects of sociolinguistic reclamation. My field research is focused on a communally-owned farm named Gangadiwali that has been in operation since roughly 2008, when the project’s core members finally succeeded in resolving land title problems. In reopening the estate to communal farming, participants hope to transform the effects of 60 years of US migration on the local Garifuna community. My research goals particularly align with a developing body of work on “culturally sustaining pedagogy,” which attracts scholars in the fields of both education and anthropology. This theoretical approach begins with the precepts that a) learning happens both within and outside the classroom, and b) that learning is, above all, a social process that is integral to community well-being and, vice versa, that is strengthened by drawing upon the sociocultural resources of the community. Consequently, while I will conduct research in Labuga schools, my interest is only peripherally on the actions of teachers and schools. This allows me to focus on Garífuna activists’ conceptions of what is necessary to the evolution and vitality of language, culture, and community in Labuga, and in the relationship between their work and the achievement of Guatemala’s constitutional promise of educational sovereignty.


My dissertation will be written as 3 articles for publication, book-ended by an introduction and conclusion:


Article #1 will focus on local activists’ attitudes towards globalization, the economy, and tourism. My goal is to examine the ways they conceive of tourism and foreign presence more generally (including remittances from abroad) as both hindering and supporting local goals of economic, social, and educational sovereignty.


Article #2 will focus on Gangadiwali Farm and the topic of culturally sustaining pedagogies, which I described above.


Article #3 as I and my advisor are conceiving it at the moment, will focus on the matter of indigenous responses to COVID-19 That is, it will examine how the experience of global pandemic is being taken up in conceiving the urgency of linguistic and cultural revitalization goals as well as to understand what it means to be and act as an indigenous person (e.g., a teacher, a farmer, etc.) throughout the long arc of colonial and post-colonial history.


The following bodies of literature, as I am conceiving the study now, are important to my research:


  1. Culturally sustaining pedagogies
  2. “Red” pedagogy
  3. Indigeneity and embedded sovereignty
  4. Race, identity, and the African diaspora
Anthropology/Linguistic anthropology