Rebecca Louise Carter Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies

Rebecca Louise Carter is a cultural anthropologist focused on the study of social integration in a globalized and increasingly urbanized world. Her research and teaching is particularly concerned with the ways in which people inhabit precarious places, how they contend with conditions of vulnerability and violence, and how they work for survival, social membership, and social and environmental justice. Prior to Brown, Carter was an ACLS New Faculty Fellow (2011-2013, appointed in the Department of Anthropology, Brown University). She was also an instructor in the department of Anthropology and Sociology at Middle Tennessee State University (2009-2011). Her recently published work appears in The Journal of Southern Religion and in City & Society.

Brown Affiliations

research overview

Carter's research considers the Atlantic world as a reinvigorated site for the overlapped examination of race, racism, and social inequality; increasingly precarious conditions of social and environmental vulnerability; and everyday movements of social survival and urban sustainability. Three Atlantic port cities serve as primary sites: New Orleans; Nantes, France; and Saint-Louis du Sénégal. Carter examine the pasts, present realities, and possible futures of these places and their inhabitants, focusing in particular on historically marginalized groups and tracing the everyday practices that reconstitute city and citizenry in the 21st century. 

research statement

Dr. Carter's book manuscript, Prayers for the People: Homicide and Humanity in the Crescent City, examines the remaking of self, city, and society in the extended post-Katrina period – an urban redevelopment held in check by persistently high levels of poverty and violence, especially in African American communities. Carter follows a process of social and physical erasure that primarily impacts young black men who are most frequently the victims as well as the perpetrators of violent crime and who are criminalized by default more broadly in the press and public sphere. Against this process, she traces a counter-narrative of black social value and membership, formed most clearly within local religious communities. The manuscript reveals, for example, how members of a Baptist church minister to murder victims’ families, affirming the social and spiritual relations that ‘place’ and give meaning to black lives and deaths in both private and public domains. Their approach is inherently creative – people, words, and materials are quite literally placed on the city’s most significant grounds. Crime sites, for example, become places of protest and healing when shrines are built and vigils held there. Carter argues that such practices are important forms of social and political relatedness and resistance; they demonstrate also how assertions of humanism and humanness might re-center efforts to create inclusive, non-violent, sustainable, and just urban societies.

Carter's second project builds on her research in New Orleans to explore the possibility of the ‘human rights city.’ Broadening the view to comparatively consider the social-geography of race and inequality, its role in the evolution of vulnerability and violence, and related social movement, the project is based in Nantes, France. It focuses on the history of Nantes as France’s dominant port city in the triangular trade from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century, juxtaposed with the city’s current mission to foster inclusivity, innovation, and sustainable development. Carter thus examines national efforts to recognize and remember the slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity, particularly following the 2001 passage of the Taubira Law, and she explores the sites and actions in Nantes that stem from this legislation. The project also focuses on the emergence of several performance-based popular movements that modify, reimagine, and contest dominant historical and moral framings. The research considers more broadly the extent to which visions for an inclusive urban future, particularly in Atlantic port cities, must first recognize and come to terms with the lingering effects of an inhumane past. 

Carter's long-term plans for research also include a project in Senegal, completing the larger retracing of the trans-Atlantic triangular trade that gives both physical and symbolic structure to her scholarship. Based in Saint-Louis, the research brings into clearer view the shared concern for social and environmental vulnerability, focused here on the impact of climate change and sea level rise on the West African coast. The project also attends more directly to children and youth, positioning them as agents and makers and working (through ethnography, oral history, and creative visual documentation) to explore how they understand, visualize, and might reconfigure their social, urban, and environmental realities. The research works also to assess the extent to which their views factor into recommendations and policies for urban health and human security.