Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Anthropology

Content Description

1 online resource (viii, 276 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jennifer Burrell

Committee Members

Elise Andaya, James Collins, Daphne Chandler


Activism, Black liberation, Intersectionality, Power, Race, Sociolinguistic, African Americans, Women, Black, Black lives matter movement, African American political activists, Liberty

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics


From July 2015 to May 2018, the sociopolitical terrain and atmosphere of Albany, New York underwent significant shifts as the levels and types of activism and liberation discourse increased. The shifts were related to national occurrences, such as the development of the Black Lives Matter movement, the state of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, the campaign and election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United State, and the emergence of the Me Too movement. During this period of change, activists engaged in a series of political struggles for situated identification and empowerment, the emergence of a “cultural politics of recognition and a social politics of justice and equality” (Bernstein, 2006, p. 53), resulting in the humanizing process of liberation (Shange, 2019; Freire, 2020). This dissertation explores discourses, ideologies, and practices of liberation, defined as freedom and equity resulting from the development of innovative pedagogies and praxes of humanism. In this light, all people would possess the ability, “to make a new start, develop a new way of thinking and [become] a new man [human]” (Fanon ,1963, p. 239) in an equitable world. The project explores the definitions of liberation and social change utilized in activist work, community organizing, and modes of everyday life. In this work, I trace the political history of Albany and the history of Black activism from the Civil Rights Era to the contemporary moment, in order to frame the actions and efforts of activists and residents situated in this ethnography. The project follows the experiences and activities of over twenty activists as well as other Black residents of Albany. The ethnography was conducted using participant observation in activist meetings, artistic events, homes, car conversations, workshops, rallies, vigils, court hearings, and a host of other events. While both activists and non-activist residents participated in the development of the ethnography, a majority of the interviewees were activists. All of those were Black and about half were women. The ethnography is situated within the realms of liberation theory and practice, as well as the anthropologies of race, gender, power, and the state. Specifically, the earlier chapters utilize historical frameworks and methods, as well as discourse analysis (Gee, 1999), to define liberation and interpret Black political action in the context of Arbor Hill activism. The latter chapters focus on social networks and relationships as a means of deciphering political relationships, the flow of ideologies and action, and the pathways to liberation.