Subordinated people have always relied on “exilic spaces” for survival and renewal. These physical and discursive spaces are carved out by practical and creative acts. In exilic spaces like underground dance events, the uncivilized can make the most of their independence from the constraints of “civil” life: the unruly and vulgar embrace grime and glamour, playing with categories of gender, sexuality, race and class. What happens in these spaces could be called “leisure” or “parties” or “hedonism.” But serious work can happen on the dance floor, if it is truly exilic. People create and share cultural/material resources on terms not dictated by mainstream society, or by colonial power. People play out alternate identities and paths to material survival and put them into practice. While exilic spaces can be sites of struggle against dominant power, they are often not seen as revolutionary either by more mainstream political movements and organizers, or by the state or elites, who prefer to police them in relation to concepts of propriety and property. What can we learn from the squat party, the gay ballroom, the Jamaican street dance that could inform spaces of resistance such as Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland?
Exploring this question reveals how these current political actions connect (or not) to longstanding communities resisting global colonial capitalism. Starting from the Jamaican street dance and my own experience in underground dance music djing, I’ll discuss how exilic spaces allow us to play with race, class, gender, citizenship and sexuality, and connect across difference in ways that many leftist movements in the global North have failed to do.
Larisa Kingston Mann/Dj Ripley is a legal anthropologist, journalist, public Speaker, activist and award-winning DJ. Over the past 17 years as Dj Ripley, Larisa has performed in and organized events involving djs, composers, vocalists, scholars, artists, film-makers, organizers and community members, where musical and spoken conversations overlap and inform each other, creating conversations across social, professional and disciplinary lines. She is completing her PhD at UC Berkeley Law School’s Jurisprudence and Social Policy department, her research covers culture, copyright law, technology and power. She grounds those interests in an anthropological examination of Jamaican music-making practices.