Theses Doctoral

This Day, We Use Our Energy for Revolution: Black Feminist Ethics of Survival, Struggle, and Renewal in the new New Orleans

McTighe, Laura Elizabeth

“This Day, We Use Our Energy for Revolution” is a collaborative ethnography of activist endurance, which I have researched and written alongside the leaders of Women With A Vision (WWAV) in New Orleans, a black feminist health collective founded in 1989. Grounded in three years of fieldwork and a decade of engaged partnership, this dissertation centers the often-hidden histories, practices, and geographies of struggle in America’s zones of abandonment and asks how visions for living otherwise become actionable. Two events frame its inquiry: On March 29, 2012, WWAV overturned a law criminalizing sex work as a “crime against nature,” thereby securing the removal of more than 800 people from the Louisiana sex offender registry list; two months later, on May 24, still unknown arsonists firebombed and destroyed the organization’s headquarters. Using a multidisciplinary approach, this dissertation excavates the histories of violence and struggle that surround these events in order to render visible a complex geographic story of religion, conquest, and refusal. Post-Katrina New Orleans has been imagined as a “resilient” city fulfilling secular visions for progress and development. I argue, by contrast, that this spatial project of renovation rests on centuries-old colonialist logics, wherein blackness figures as the foil upon which “resilience” establishes its own significance. As such, I read the attacks on WWAV not as exceptional, but rather as clues into the enduring spatial threat that black women’s material, spiritual, and intellectual labors pose. For generations, southern black women have been doing history outside of established historiography. Their archives take many forms: texts written, bodies resurrected, communities made whole. So do their narratives. The deft two-step of southern black women’s history-making both refuses and reframes the dominant discourses into which they enter, as well as the places they have been assigned by white supremacy, gender injustice, and state power. I argue that this generations-honed black feminist praxis opens new directions for understanding the work of crafting social life and political vision since emancipation. Complementing historical studies on how black women fashioned authority within mainline and charismatic Christian institutions, this dissertation looks beyond the pews to the blues, to front porches and to Afro-Caribbean traditions––to locate and theorize black women’s ethics, aesthetics, and epistemologies for crafting more livable human geographies.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bender, Courtney
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 3, 2017