Re-Directing the Notion of Creolization

Michaeline A. Crichlow, Globalization and the Post-Creole Imagination: Notes on Fleeing the Plantation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009); 305 pages; ISBN 978-0-8223-4441-4 (paper).

• April 2011

The twentieth century witnessed the anxiety of Caribbean scholars to grasp the authentic local epistemology of the Caribbean. In the search for knowledge, the region’s sociocultural practices, identity, and nationalistic discourse, as well as the relation of metropolis and colonies, have been approached from different angles: from Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête and Caliban as a cultural signifier, to Patrick Chamoiseau, Jean Bernabé, and Raphael Confiant’s Elogé de la creolité, to Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s analysis of creolization, to Edouard Glissant’s Poétique de la Relation. Glissant’s and Trouillot’s works, specifically, fuel the postmodern understanding of the Caribbean as a complex site with multiple local histories and multiform cultures where differences relate the region to the rest of the world. In Creolization and the Post-Creole Imagination, sociologist Michaeline Crichlow uses Glissant’s relationally kaleidoscopic gaze and Trouillot’s concept of creolization to study the sociocultural transformation of the Caribbean, engaging herself successfully in the scholarly conversation about the meaning of Caribbean societies. In so doing, Crichlow makes an invaluable contribution to the analysis of Caribbean society and culture earning a place in the vanguard of historical development of Caribbean knowledge and within the present growing academic bibliography on this subject.

It is precisely the theoretical reconfiguration of creolization that grants Globalization and the Post-Creole Imagination its academic merit.  This concept, defined as negotiation between cultures or as “processes of selective creation and cultural struggle” (ix), has been intimately based on colonization and the plantation as the point of departure to understand such further Caribbean developments as decolonization, nationalist movements, citizenship, and identity. Expressing a subtle disenchantment with exhausted debates on essentialisms, Crichlow proposes to re-direct the discussion of creolization under Glissant’s relationality and Trouillot’s conception and abandon the idea of the plantation to discuss Caribbean sociocultural practices.  She adds that “in unsetting discourses on creolization from the plantation enclave, [although rooted in geographies of Atlantic space], creolization might well better understood as a specific kind of ontological conditioning process which has attended the formation and mapping of ‘culture of power,’ or ‘culture systems’ and their complex ensembles of space” (44).

The first two chapters expand her argument. Crichlow’s theoretical discussion  draws on Trouillot’s demand to historicize creolization and fleeing the plantation to shape her argument into three processes: creolization generalized, taking the concept beyond the plantation; creolization historicized, or notions of history as spatialized and space as historicized; and creolization dynamized, as jointly viewing the processes of generalizing and historicizing creolization gives us a dynamic model. Creolization on the move (dynamized) engages a complicated set of concepts in constant transformation.  In this sense, the author sees the relationality of creolization as an articulated continuum of self, time, and space immersed in global and local dynamics related not only to the Caribbean but also to other “vulnerable” regions of the world. Crichlow advises the reader not to obscure the newness in the economy of the changing social relations and the changing direction of subjectivities by limiting creolization to the plantation.

When examining space, the author follows Henri Lefebvre’s critique to define space in its totality or global aspect, and its temporality: “It is now and formerly a present space” (46). The author further argues about “one’s place in time,” or “one’s place in lived time,” and “you are here now,” which includes the defining the boundaries of inside and outside, beginnings and endings of inner and outer (social) space. Crichlow then extends her argument to relate space-and-place and space-and-time (temporality) to prefigure the theoretically unlimited space of modernity or the “position of the subject located in that place” (52). The temporality of space and the locality of place allow the individual to be an agent of transformation in a world within the world. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, Crichlow introduces the diasporic habitus as a space where individuals subvert, challenge, and appropriate places and remake themselves beyond older localized forms of creolization. Further, Crichlow argues that to grasp the relationship between space and place, it is necessary to turn to relations of power (54). Here power is discussed as “something that functions only when it is part of a chain . . . it is never localized here or there, it is never in the hands of some, and it is never appropriated in the way that wealth or a commodity can be appropriated (55, citing Michel Foucault).

Crichlow lays out facts to support her theoretical argument over the next five chapters.  Drawing on ethnographic data from Jamaica and St. Lucia, the author discusses issues of resistance, citizenship, postcolonial power relations, migration, globalization, and multiplicity of presence in modern subjectivities. Using St. Lucian carnivalesque performances, the author presents ethnography of St. Lucia’s Flower Festivals, a young St. Lucian men’s television show, and rural St. Lucian migration to England to reflect on notions of resistance, cultural politics, and local and global transformation under the optic of creolization.

Using rich ethnography and a nostalgic tone, the author narrates the transatlantic movements of rural St. Lucians in the chapter “‘Gens Anglaises’: Diasporic Movements Remixing the World with Post-Creole Imagination.”  Crichlow’s use of suitcases as a symbol of expectation, utopic dreams, and nostalgia is particularly appealing (141). Moreover, to associate the suitcase metaphor with the cases’ physical and symbolic properties encapsulates the meaning of the post-creole imagination seen as a signifier of cultural identity and notions of nation. In the process of these journeys the author sees a transformation of the local within the global. Here, Bourdieu’s habitus is refashioned to identify the space in which immigrants transform themselves and dislocate states. Interestingly, I have found in my own research on Dominican migration to the United States similar manifestations of state dislocations and cultural identity. For example, the presence of Latin Americans and Caribbeans in the United States has challenged federal and state laws but also has affected the political, economic, and cultural configurations of their countries of origin. In the Dominican case the issue of identity politics has been a fundamental issue in its diaspora, transforming notions of race.

Crichlow does not ignore the fact that there are powerful forces creating inequalities affecting everybody. Globalization and neoliberalism have oppressed and othered “vulnerable” people. Using the symbolic and provocative case of eBay, the author argues that in spite of adversity, people use the imaginary of eBay to dwell with power and its trappings (198). Although the author persuasively argues about cultural politics in an oppressive global and neoliberal world and eBay imaginaries as an escape, I find it difficult to believe that resistance in post-creole societies can be reduced to civil societies seeking reforms rather than more meaningful collective resistance against oppression. However, upon reflection, I realize many similar forms of resistance in the region and elsewhere corroborate Crichlow’s assessment of the fragmentary sociocultural responses to injustices. For example, in Nicaragua young women and men camp in front of the electoral commission building demanding elections without violence. They use a blog to propagate their demands and now have national and international presence. Eventually these youngsters’ intervention might dislocate state policies on violence and reformulate notions of democracy.

One of the prominent features of Globalization and the Post-Creole Imagination is its narrative, methodology, and eclectic approach. Instead of one grand narrative, the book contains many narratives embodying multiple ideas and viewing angles. These narratives present different rich ethnographies, each of which is fundamental to explaining creolization as an open and liberated concept and the post-creole imagination.  Also prominent is the simmering of multi disciplinary varieties of theories and concepts. Borrowing from Glissant, Trouillot, Bhabha, Derrida, Foucault, Bourdieu, Lefebvre, and Mbeme, among others, Crichlow creates a unique yet complicated theoretical approach. Moreover, the multidisciplinary profile of the author and contributor Patricia Northover add a new element in the eclectic academic approach of the book.

In the academic exercise of seeking “authentic” knowledge, Crichlow proposes a symbiosis of western, Caribbean, and other “vulnerable” regions’ knowledge to interpret the Caribbean sociocultural dynamics. In grasping the local epistemologies of the Caribbean, Crichlow recreates creolization as a fresh concept to discuss Caribbean subjects as well as other “vulnerable” people in other regions of the planet in the present global and neoliberal world.

 

Milagros Ricourt is an associate professor at Lehman College, City University of New York. She is the author of Hispanas de Queens: Latino Panethnicity in a New York Neighborhood (Cornell University Press, 2003) and Dominicans in New York City (Routledge, 2002). She is currently writing about Hispaniola sociocultural dynamics based on ethnographic and archival research in Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.