Creole Economics

Creole Economics

KATHERINE E. BROWNE
Line Drawings by Rod Salter
Copyright Date: 2004
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/702929
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  • Book Info
    Creole Economics
    Book Description:

    What do the trickster Rabbit, slave descendants, off-the-books economies, and French citizens have to do with each other? Plenty, says Katherine Browne in her anthropological investigation of the informal economy in the Caribbean island of Martinique. She begins with a question: Why, after more than three hundred years as colonial subjects of France, did the residents of Martinique opt in 1946 to integrate fully with France, the very nation that had enslaved their ancestors? The author suggests that the choice to decline sovereignty reflects the same clear-headed opportunism that defines successful, crafty, and illicit entrepreneurs who work off the books in Martinique today.

    Browne draws on a decade of ethnographic fieldwork and interview data from all socioeconomic sectors to question the common understanding of informal economies as culture-free, survival strategies of the poor. Anchoring her own insights to longer historical and literary views, the author shows how adaptations of cunning have been reinforced since the days of plantation slavery. These adaptations occur, not in spite of French economic and political control, but rather because of it. Powered by the "essential tensions" of maintaining French and Creole identities, the practice of creole economics provides both assertion of and refuge from the difficulties of being dark-skinned and French.

    This powerful ethnographic study shows how local economic meanings and plural identities help explain work off the books. Like creole language and music, creole economics expresses an irreducibly complex blend of historical, contemporary, and cultural influences.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79734-5
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. PART ONE: Groundings
    • ONE Elements
      (pp. 3-16)

      My visits to Barbados, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and a number of other non-French islands in the Caribbean did not prepare me for the visual or cultural environment of Martinique. One arrives at the island’s magnificent airport, an overbuilt but proud testament to Martinique’s membership in the First World. But Martinique’s shiny, spacious airport is just the first indication of the island’s place under the French flag. Outside, polished Mercedes taxis and well-heeled drivers with more French ennui than English language skills send another message to first-time visitors: here, we are part of the modern world, we are French and not...

    • TWO Social Histories: THE WEIGHT OF FRANCE IN MARTINIQUE
      (pp. 17-40)

      Five giant grocery stores, known asles hypermarchés, squat in retail centers sprinkled in and around Fort-de-France. Like Walmart or Target, these big box stores offer vast supplies of imported durables and food, highlighting the lack of locally grown food and other products in Martinique. In familiar French fashion, one finds the lineup ofles chariots(grocery carts) in the parking lot and places a token in the slot, which releases one from the others nested in a row. Thesechariotsare larger than US-sized grocery carts, an early clue that the items one might want to purchase can take...

  6. PART TWO: Frameworks
    • THREE Cultural Economies: RELATING SOCIAL VALUES TO ECONOMIC THEORY IN MARTINIQUE
      (pp. 43-80)

      My first day in Martinique, a charming young man helped me navigate the French public phones. I laughed at my ignorance, he laughed at my laughing, and before I knew it, we were off on an unexpected journey that involved the next several hours. The story of my encounter with Patrick is relevant for understanding the cultural dimension of Martinique’s informal economy. But before I tell this story, and before we zoom in to see what has cultural meaning in the fascinating and complex world of Martinique, I want to show how many anthropologists have come to view economies as...

    • FOUR Afro-Caribbean Identities: POSTCOLONIAL TENSIONS AND MARTINIQUE’S CREOLE DÉBROUILLARD
      (pp. 81-116)

      There is more to the story of Patrick and it relates to the ideas in this chapter. We had made the hour drive north of Fort-de-France in order to have lunch with his mother. The swimsuit interlude was entertaining and, it turned out, a window into the social world of men in Martinique. The next many hours had less to do with Patrick’s show of economic cunning than with his fluid transitions between creole and French systems of meaning. Through “code switching,” or alternating between languages and the cultural expectations tied to each, Patrick revealed that distinctly creole and French...

  7. PART THREE: Practices
    • FIVE Adaptations of Cunning: THE CHANGING FORMS OF DÉBROUILLARDISM
      (pp. 119-150)

      The original wound of slavery conditions both the fact of creole-styledébrouillardismand its form in the contemporary economy. So, however much islanders may claim they are French, the indignity of their histories, the continuing stigma of their skin, and the subsidized dependency of their material lives prevent the final healing of that original wound. In this gap of assimilation, local versions ofdébrouillardismaffirm a creole identity of autonomy and cleverness in the face of another’s power.

      To explore the idea that creole identities can be discovered in economic practice, we need to consider the historic context in which...

    • SIX Opportunism by Class: THE PROFIT AND STATUS OF UNDECLARED WORK
      (pp. 151-176)

      The practice of creole economics occurs in an animated landscape of meaning and activity, a landscape that has been shaped organically by the past. Without this understanding of context, the informal economy in Martinique could easily be misunderstood as a simple reaction to the high costs of doing business in France legally. And while these costs certainly do account for the widespread scale of undeclared income schemes, they do not help explain why people want to work on the side, as so many do. Understanding why people work on the side matters to development planners and economists, who are prone...

    • SEVEN Women, Men, and Economic Practice: DIFFERENT ROUTES TO AUTONOMY AND STATUS
      (pp. 177-208)

      Relations between Afro-Caribbean women and men in Martinique (and in the Caribbean generally) are notoriously complicated and have been since life on the plantation. Many women today complain regularly about men—about their laziness, their lack of responsibility, their infidelity, and their continuing assumption of authority over women. The particularities of gender relationships among people of color in Martinique bear directly on the differences in how women and men organize their economic lives. In this society, both sexes express a desire for economic autonomy, but the nature of the independence they cherish is different in kind.¹ Unlike men, who talk...

  8. Epilogue IMAGINING THE FUTURE OF CREOLE ECONOMICS
    (pp. 209-214)

    Everything that weighs on the contemporary moment of widespread, cross-class earning off the books suggests this phenomenon cannot be reduced to economics alone. The Patricks, Michels, Edouards, and the occasional Charlottes who earn undeclared income are also intent on asserting their autonomy and cleverness as they stiff the French state. Their schemes and their pride tell the more complex story about how economic life in Martinique is conditioned by creole values and identities.

    Part of this story, as we have seen, is tied to Caribbean histories of slavery, in which creole adaptations for cunning and individualism enhanced survival and a...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 215-244)
  10. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 245-246)
  11. REFERENCES CITED
    (pp. 247-260)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 261-272)