Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Sarah Lyon
Since the 1990s, the population on the Honduran island of Roatán has grown from around 20,000 (mostly English-speaking Islanders) to roughly 100,000 residents (at least half of which are native Spanish-speaking Ladinos from the Honduran mainland) (Bay Islands Voice 2014b). This population growth has occurred alongside increasing forms of economic and environmental precarity that have fueled widespread instability on the island. While ethnic tensions between Ladinos and Islanders have existed since colonial times, conflict between the groups reached a crescendo in 2014 after the murder of a cruise ship employee in Roatán by a Ladino migrant. This sparked a security crisis for the island’s idyllic tourism industry.
In an effort to address growing security concerns, municipal authorities proposed a plan that included the installation of surveillance cameras in key population centers, use of 24-hour police patrols, and implementation of an identification program to track migration to the island. Authorities argued Ladino migrants were not only an ecological burden on the island, but also a major source of criminal activity, leading to the tourism industry’s instability. Yet, while stakeholders of island tourism were quick to cite Ladino migration as a major source of precarity, my research shows its causes are much broader and more complex. I argue simply blaming population growth – without a nuanced analysis of emerging human-environment relationships – does little to explain the multifaceted causes of instability in Roatán’s tourism industry.
Drawing on twelve months of ethnographic research, I find the instability in Roatán’s tourism industry is more fully explained through four overlapping crises playing out across Honduras for the majority poor, including: a lack of physical and political representation, struggles over land rights, social and economic immobilities, and disappearing childhood.
I examine this precarity as part of wider trends in global capitalism (e.g. increased expulsions of people from their lands), but also as something inextricably local in nature (e.g. filtered through a Ladino threat narrative). My analysis contributes to broader conversations occurring in the field of anthropology about how to discern and make sense of the growing forms of precarity humans face. For example, Sassen (2014) argues pinpointing the causes of precarity, such as those shaping life in Roatán, has grown more challenging as complex constellations of power obscure direct causal relationships. Parsing out the complicated relationships between formations of power on the Honduran mainland and growing sources of precarity on Roatán is one way I add to this body of literature. My research also contributes to this issue through examinations of the everyday cultural productions of value, meaning, and hope that emerge through engagements with the tourism industry—and how they anchor people amidst the backdrop of escalating uncertainty.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Sawyer, Heather Jan, "PRECARITY IN PARADISE: TOURISM, MIGRATION, AND THE BROADER CAUSES OF INSTABILITY IN ROATÁN, HONDURAS" (2018). Theses and Dissertations--Anthropology. 35.