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Haiti: The Notion of Inherently Violent Haitians is a Myth, says New Study

Photo Credit: Eric Thayer/Getty images

“Violence in Haiti is systemic, that is to say, it’s related to the abandonment of the state, the abandonment of society by public institutions that fail to provide basic services.”

Anthropologist Rachelle Doucet Source: PRIO

“I reject the ontological definition of an inherently violent Haitian,” declared Anthropologist Rachelle Charlier Doucet at Port-au-Prince’s Hotel le Plaza on Friday, June 29, 2012. “I refute the notion that the fate of the Haitian nation is sinking in perpetual chaos,” reiterated the researcher to her target audience of reporters, NGO and UN representatives, politicians and bureaucrats, attending the three-hour Seminar with Presentation of Research Findings.

The Center for Studies and Research on the Development of Cultures and Societies (CERDECS) organized the seminar in partnership with the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) to present the results from “Conflict Prevention and Conflict Management in Haiti: Insight from Marginalized Communities,” a study focused on Haitian perceptions of conflict and conflict resolution. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs financed the project researchers hoped would help identify contextual and cultural models of conflict prevention.

Under senior researcher Wenche Iren Hauge’s leadership, Anthropologist Doucet and Sociologist Alain Gilles divided the project into three phases, which covered different geographical areas of Haiti, concentrating on local capacities for prevention of violence. Phase I covered the Artibonite Department and Port-au-Prince, phase II took place in the South, Southeast, Grand-Anse and Nippes, followed by the Northeast and Northwest during phase III, according to PRIO. Gilles, who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Columbia, conducted a survey for the project, while Doucet, a Ph.D. in Anthropology recipient of New York University conducted a qualitative study, including fieldwork and interviews.

Senior Researcher Wenche Iren Hauge Source: PRIO

Haitian intellectuals that attended the event welcomed Doucet’s announcement that confirmed their belief; “Violence in Haiti is systemic, that is to say, it’s related to the abandonment of the state, the abandonment of society by public institutions that fail to provide basic services,” she said. Her team specifically focused on social ties and trust concepts in the Haitian population, stigmatized by gross generalizations and mischaracterizations: fairly or unfairly. While presenting her 40-page report to her audience, Doucet said mistrust was the norm that governed social relations, as she unveiled the linear relationship systemic violence shared with the absence of institutionalized relations between Haitian citizens and their state. Nevertheless, her findings might do little to dispel stereotypical attributes pinned on Haitians, as traces of that proverbial perception roamed prominent circles.

Sociologist Alain Gilles Source: PRIO

“Even with a UN stabilization mission present in Haiti since 2004,” lamented Stephen Ralph Henry who reported the event for online news agency AlterPresse. “One finds, embedded in speeches of the international community, a perception that Haiti’s natives could potentially be prone to violence, which would put the Haitian society on a slippery slope to chaos,” he added. Meanwhile, foreigners are not fleeing violent-prone Haitians, rather the opposite. The number of foreign nationals living, working and/or volunteering in Haiti grew exponentially, following the 2010 earthquake that left the country in ruins: hence the Republic of NGO. Moreover, In spite of a slew of prominent scientific theories, pinpointing government failures as primary agents of collective violence, that fallacy–prevalent even in academia–have plagued Haitians for two centuries. “Haitians still lived with the legacy of the slave trade and of the revolt that finally removed the French,” wrote American Anthropologist and Physician Paul Farmer in his 2004 essay, “Who Removed Aristide.” Such general statements, complained Haitianists, often failed to identify the roots of the violence or provide any antidote, which they said validated the new study’s findings.

Doucet’s revelations at Le Plaza were particularly for Haitianists not only because they defied conventional wisdom, but they also reinforced Ted Gurr’s views on the influential factors in civil violence, notably his theory of Relative Deprivation introduced in his 1970 publication, “Why men Rebel”(pg. 25). Gurr, an authority figure in political conflicts and instability, theorized that perceived discrepancies between people’s actual state and their aspirational state created tension that increased the potential for collective violence. He coined it as “perceived discrepancy between value expectations and value capabilities,” where the former comprised values, such as welfare, security and self-actualization that people feel they should be able to achieve, exceed the latter; the means they feel are available to them, empowering their self-actualization. Consequently, argued Gurr, people’s conscious experience of deprivation provoked both behavioral and attitudinal changes in them, which was the underlying theme in Doucet’s presentation.

PRIO: The Peace Research Institute Oslo

As the study revealed, the confidence level of more than 70 percent of surveyed participants, which comprised people from rural villages, residential neighborhoods and suburbs, in people around them or in stated institutions barely reached 40 percent. Hence, rather than relying on Haiti’s expensive an impotent judicial system, citizens opted for a consensus approach to conflict management, exhibiting a certain mistrust in the status quo. To solve their problems, deduced the experts, people divided them into two broad categories: small and big; the former solvable through mutual exchanges, while the latter necessitated mediation.

However, systemic violence in Haiti is not impenetrable, deduced Doucet who recommended creating a contextual and inclusive justice system to effectively deter the phenomenon. In her characterization, a “mixed justice system” through the people’s perceptions of justice and the Western approach would be a viable solution, since “Communities have resources, mechanisms established through more than 200 years of history, on which one could profitably capitalize,” she inferred.



Christophe Celius
Christophe Celius

Currently residing in Charlotte, NC, Christophe Celius obtained his BA in Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, studying Public Relations and Journalism. Emigrated from Haiti to the United States, Christophe's passion for writing is both insightful and edifying.

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