The cultural politics of Jamaican dancehall music in South Florida

Dean Anthony Wagstaffe, Florida International University


For Jamaicans throughout the Diaspora, dancehall music has emerged as their most potent cultural symbol demarcating their place of origin and continued sense of national belonging. Due to its unapologetic nature and tendency to tackle divisive issues such as those involving race, class, and sex, dancehall has been unfairly branded as wholly misogynistic and violent. This dissertation attempts to counter some of these assertions by exploring the cultural politics of dancehall music in South Florida's Jamaican community. Information for this study was obtained using participant observation, formal, and informal interviews. Participant observation was conducted over a 2 year period at several dancehall clubs and events throughout South Florida. A total of 24 formal and 30 informal interviews were conducted with listeners of the music and business owners who are directly and indirectly involved with the promotion, production, and distribution of dancehall in South Florida. Results show that dancehall enacts cultural politics in three primary ways in South Florida. First, the music serves as one of several types of materials used in the construction of a "Jamaican identity." This is achieved through the lyrical content of the music where social, economic and political issues affecting the island are often discussed and debated. Second, dancehall operates as a form of cultural politics through its nurturing of nationalistic sensibilities. Evidence of this is apparent in the controversy involving dancehall's homophobic stance. Third, dancehall affords Jamaicans in South Florida the ability to transplant and perpetuate the uptown versus downtown divide. Far from being wholly misogynistic and violent, therefore, dancehall is an important tool that can be used to address a wide variety of issues within the local Jamaican context and throughout the Jamaican diaspora.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Sociology|Demographics

Recommended Citation

Wagstaffe, Dean Anthony, "The cultural politics of Jamaican dancehall music in South Florida" (2006). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3217583.