Cape Caribbean Studies - Models of Caribbean Society Notes
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Topic 1.4: Identity and Social Formation Models of Caribbean Society: Plantation Plural Creole
Introduction The models of Caribbean society: Plantation Plural Creole These models are not mutually exclusive. The plantation model is primarily socioeconomic while the plural and creole models are sociocultural. While the plantation model is generally accepted as the definitive economic model (at least up to the end of the 20th century, the sociocultural model remains highly contested.
Plantation Society Definition: ● Socioeconomic model – a society which exhibits the rigidly stratified social and economic relations enforced on plantations in the Americas.
Lloyd Best, Kari Levitt, George Beckford.
● Sociocultural model – R.T. Smith (building on Goffman’s ‘total institution’), Orlando Patterson, Vera Rubin.
Background to the plantation society model ● Proposed by Lloyd Best as part of an economic analysis of Caribbean society. He built on the work of previous scholars including economists such as Herman Merivale and H.J. Nieboer, historians including Eric Williams and Lowell Ragatz and sociologists such as Erving Goffman, Raymond Smith, Charles Wagley and Elena Padilla.
● Goffman’s ‘total institution’ a key concept – an institution in which all aspects of the life of individuals within the institution are subordinate to and controlled by the authorities within the organisation. ● The totality of the institution created similar economic and social conditions in societies stretching from north-eastern Brazil through the Caribbean to the southern United States.
The plantation economy ● Analysis first proposed by Lloyd Best in 1968, building on work of Eric Williams (1944) in Capitalism and Slavery. Became the foundation for the work of the New World Movement, centred on the University of the West Indies and including, apart from Best, George Beckford, Norman Girvan, Edwin Carrington and others. ● Best’s analysis centred on the historical reality of slavery and the plantation in the Caribbean which produced an economy based on ‘production for trade.’ He claimed that, after emancipation, the mercantilist-based institutions of society continued to create ‘highly import-intensive patterns of consumption’, a corresponding neglect of the domestic agricultural sector and a continued dependence on the metropole. ● Beckford extended Best’s analysis to explain the continued under-development of the region,suggesting that the plantation was, and remains, a ‘total institution’ dominating not only the economy but all aspects of Caribbean society as well.
Characteristics of the plantation economy (Best)
● It is inextricably linked to the metropolitan economy through its monocrop production for export.
● The plantation is a total institution with regard to the economy i.e. it affects the entire economic life of all those involved in it. ● It possesses a level of ‘incalculability’ because of price indeterminacy since supply and demand decisions are made at the metropolitan and not local level.
Characteristics of the plantation economy (Beckford)
● The plantation economy (and society) was part of a ‘plantation system’, essentially coercive and exploitative, that resulted in persistent poverty and powerlessness in the dependent economy at the hands of the metropolitan economy.
● New foreign-owned, multinational corporations engaged in mining and manufacture operate within the institutional framework of the plantation system and therefore do not produce the necessary economic transformation to break the cycle of dependency.
Characteristics of the plantation economy (Beckford) ● The real dynamic for growth in the local economy lies with the peasant class but the growth of this sector is stifled by the plantation system.
● The ‘totality’ of the system extends beyond the economy to the entire society, to the political and socio-cultural institutions of society.
Characteristics of plantation society (R.T. Smith, Patterson, Rubin) ● Institutionalization of stratification based on race and class resulting in a brittle or fragile society constantly on the verge of crisis due to the capital – labour antagonism. ● A plural society with little mixing between groups except on the economic level and the consequent development of parallel institutions and the possibility of fragmentation. ● Political power exercised on behalf of the plantocracy although by black nationalist parties. Power maintained through the expansion of educational opportunities, the appeal to ethnic solidarity and to nationalism against the metropole. Power highly centralised continuing the plantation tradition of weak local communities.
Characteristics of plantation society (cont’d) ● A concern for lightness of skin and a preference for the foreign. The orientation of the society is outwards towards the metropole. ● The development of hybrid cultural forms through interculturation although the society remains plural. The dominance of European values also results in the acculturation of subordinate groups. ● Social stratification remains rigid with race as the determining ascriptive factor. Some variations introduced as a result of industrialisation, immigration, and a result of the growth of the tourism, sport, and arts and entertainment sectors.
Criticism of the plantation model
● The claim of totality ignores the creative contribution made by peasant farmers and the changes in the social structure brought about by their activities including the upward mobility of their descendants. ● Although Beckford referred to “the emergence of the vertically integrated corporate plantation enterprise”, this ignores the real differences between the ‘old’ plantation sector and the ‘new’ mining, manufacturing and service sectors of the economy. The latter have promoted the introduction of modern technology, new patterns of economic organisation, and new social classes including an urban industrial working class and a local managerial class.
Criticism of the plantation model (cont’d) ● Beckford’s analysis of plantation society has little to say about the workings of the plural society and its relationship to the plantation. In particular, he is silent on the dynamics of Caribbean society with regard to ethnic and cultural differences and how these differences may result in social change. As a result, his model is believed to be too simplistic with regard to social reality. It describes what is but cannot explain how change will occur.
Plural Society Definition:
A society in which different ethnic groups live parallel to each other, each with a similar set of institutions, meeting only in the market place and under the political domination of the colonial state.
● Apart from plural societies, it was argued that there were homogeneous societies (e.g. Northern Europe or Central Asia) or heterogeneous societies (e.g. the U.S.).
Background to the plural society model ● Theory originated with J. S.Furnivall writing about colonial societies in Southeast Asia. Focused on their differentiated economies.
● Adopted by M.G.Smith in the 1960’s to describe Caribbean society (specifically Grenada).
● For Smith, the cultural diversity of the groups was key. He distinguished between pluralism which, according to Lloyd Brathwaite, existed in most modern societies, and the plural society which was rarer and to be found in the southern Caribbean especially Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname.
Characteristics of the plural society ● A complex of parallel institutions (family, religion, language, the arts, education). Society inherently fragile due to the lack of common values and the potential for conflict in the competition for cultural space. Order maintained by the domination of political power by the colonial power and, later, by one group. Political instability frequent, often degenerating into violence.
Characteristics of the plural society ● Dislocations and inequities created by the process of economic development, particularly the urban/rural divide, often seen in ethnic terms.
● Interculturation, while always present, often resisted as the first steps towards acculturation. Hybrid cultural forms not always welcomed.
Criticism of the plural model ● All societies, especially in the modern world, are pluralistic. ● The cultural differences between groups in societies like Jamaica and Grenada appear to be based largely on class, their position in relation to the power structure of the society. ● Carl Stone argued that class was the determinant of the social structure but Smith suggested that class was subsumed into the racial and cultural divisions.
Criticism of the plural model ● The model takes no account of the processes of interculturation and hybridization and the implications of these for the institutions of society. ● Any analysis of Caribbean society must acknowledge the relative lack of racial violence and political instability in the region despite the pluralism of the society.
Creole Society Definition: A society created by a process of hybridization based upon the response of individuals and the White/Black groups in the society to their environment and to each other.
Background to the creole society model The term ‘creole’ is a contested concept. It can be defined as ● Anyone or anything born or created in the Caribbean. This is the original sense in which the word was used by slaves in Brazil to describe their offspring born in the region rather than in Africa. ● A person of European stock born in the Caribbean but with the implication that they may be of mixed race. ● A language which is a hybrid of European and largely African elements. ● A person of African descent in the Caribbean (used by whites and Indians, sometimes in a pejorative sense).
Background to the creole society model ● Creole society model first proposed by Kamau Brathwaite in a study of Jamaican society, building on the work of Elsa Goveia in her work on the Leeward Islands. ● Variations on the Creole model have been developed by Orlando Patterson, Rex Nettleford and Mervyn Alleyne among others. ● This model has grown in popularity due to the widespread interest in hybridization in cultural studies as a result of globalization and the emergence of plural societies in the developed world.
Characteristics of Creole Society ● Created through a deliberate two-way process of interculturation and accommodation. ● Contains hybrid persons, institutions, and cultural products both material and non-material. ● One society is dominant (the European) but two cultural forms developed and now co-exist: the Euro-Creole with European forms dominating and the Afro-Creole retaining African cultural patterns.
Characteristics of Creole Society ● With independence, the intelligentsia adopted some Afro-Creole forms in resistance to the coloniser but remained Euro-oriented. Brathwaite calls them AfroSaxons while Patterson calls the process ‘synthetic creolisation’.
Criticisms of the Creole model ● The model ignores the conflict inherent in the creolisation process. Creolisation results not in homogenisation but in further fragmentation since individuals and groups negotiate different hybrid forms. ● Brathwaite’s description of two cultural groups seems to turn the model into a version of the plural society with all the implications for fragility and conflict. ● The model ignores the question of class and the hegemony of European cultural forms. Creolisation may ultimately result in the disappearance of African retentions in favour of the Western global culture.
Criticisms of the Creole model ● The model offers no solution to the plural socities of the southern Caribbean: Trinidad and Guyana. For East Indians, creolisation is douglarisation, the destruction of their traditional culture and their assimilation into Western culture.