Private: Space, female economies, and autonomy in the shotgun neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti

This article argues that commercial practices, social relations, and moral obligations in downtown Port-au-Prince shape and are shaped by the vernacular buildings in which they take place. Women living in, and working from, shotgun houses—a structure with a small street facade that allows for both private and commercial life — use these houses to build moral economies woven around familial solidarity and egalitarian relations. Working in houses that formerly belonged to Haitian black middle classes implies inheritance of respectability values based around home caretaking, religious life, and intimacy. In their economic inventiveness, women who do not have access to formal employment mobilize the power and politics of these houses in a distinctive mode of work and entrepreneurship. Houses and acts of commerce, together, form a particular kind of Haitian respectability for women that offers visibility, social networking, and risk adversity. These domestic spaces that open up new political, social, and economic horizons are threatened by top-down urban planning projects. Through the narration of the life history of Clomène Firmin, this article details female economic and moral practices and phases of urban planning that had for effect, since the devastating 2010 earthquake, to dismantle female economies in urban centers.

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