Ricarda Hammer. Predicaments of Citizenship: Racecraft, Colonialism, and the Making of Political Modernity

via Zoom

While citizenship promises equality, it has deep entanglements with the colonial project. Sociologists have long analyzed mechanisms of citizenship inclusion through the lens of the class struggle and cultural resignification, and we have often tethered citizenship to the nation state and European modernity. However, it was in the colonies where questions of rights had to be navigated, especially during the Caribbean struggles over freedom following slavery. We tend to bifurcate political processes in the metropole from those in the colony even though they were deeply connected. As a result, Sociology has largely overlooked how a project of racecraft made egalitarian ideals of freedom and citizenship compatible with continued colonial rule. Aiming to overcome this separation, I examine the question of rights through the colonial front lines.

In this talk, I trace how British colonial state officials navigated the “problem” of Black freedom after the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. Since voting rights in metropolitan England rested on ideals of free labor and the ability to govern responsibly, the colonial state engaged in a process of racecraft that produced difference through the following two mechanisms: First, it constructed the formerly enslaved as failed free laborers, and second, it portrayed them as unable to govern responsibly, thus ushering in a period of colonial tutelage. In examining this work of racecraft, I trace how empire and colonial rule were central questions at the heart of political modernity and contribute to the building of a Du Boisian Sociology.


Ricarda Hammer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at Brown University and a Graduate Fellow at Brown's Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. She is a global historical sociologist and her research focuses on race, colonialism, citizenship, belonging, and social theory. In her dissertation, she examines the racial politics of citizenship in the Atlantic world and its colonial legacies. Ricarda's research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and has appeared in Sociological Theory, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Teaching Sociology and Political Power and Social Theory.