Final Public Oral Exam: Allen Kiechul Kim

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
July 13, 2018 - 1:00pm

Rhetoric, Polemic, and Narrative: The Social Life of Political Ideas in Duvalier and Early Post-Duvalier Haiti (1957-1987)


Jeremy Adelman, adviser
Robert Karl
F. Nick Nesbitt
Millery Polyné, New York University, Gallatin


This dissertation is a study of political communication in Haiti during the dictatorships of Francois (1957- 1971) and Jean-Claude (1971-1986) Duvalier. Standing at the intersection of intellectual, social, and political history, it deals with an understudied aspect of the dictatorships. While much of the previous historiography on the subject has highlighted authoritarian repression and its resistance, I focus on the consensual and communicative bases of power at work in the making and unmaking of the Duvalier ascendancy. I argue that Haitian political norms about republicanism and democracy guided how the Duvalier dictatorships presented themselves. Despite their gross violations of democratic practice, both Duvaliers based their legitimacy on the outward observance of the norms in political rhetoric and in civic rituals. Simulating their fulfillment composed a way for the regimes to generate consent and functioned as a soft constraint that prevented the regimes from abolishing the nation’s participatory institutions and constitution entirely. This dissertation also argues that the Duvalier regimes’ public reliance on norms provided the rhetorical opening for a civil anti-authoritarian movement to take shape in the 1970s.

Formed out of dissident sectors of the middle-class and intelligentsia, the opposition condemned the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime by contrasting democratic ideals against lived experience under Duvalier. Amidst Haiti’s declining geopolitical and economic conditions in the 1980s, the opposition embraced large sectors of the nation’s poor majority. Cross-class participation in the anti-authoritarian movement redefined the democratic ideals it put forward. Many in the movement envisioned a democracy that would promote the social and economic rights of citizens, particularly its most marginalized. The emphasis reflected the input of the nation’s poor and the recognition by intellectuals that a new political order must respond to their needs. It also reflected the engagement of Haitian activists with transnational intellectual currents such as Latin American liberation theology and the international human rights movement. This dissertation assesses the role of political ideas in the collapse of the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime in 1986 and concludes with an introduction to the uncertain era that followed.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.