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Producing Power

Producing Power: Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in a Caribbean Workplace

Kevin A. Yelvington
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Producing Power
    Book Description:

    In a small, locally owned Trinidadian factory that produces household goods, 80 percent of the line workers are women, almost all black or East Indian. The supervisors are all men, either white or East Indian. Kevin Yelvington worked for a year in this factory to study how ethnicity and gender are integral elements of the class structure, a social and economic structure that permeates all relations between men and women in the factory. These primary divisions determine the way the production process is ordered and labor divided.

    Unlike women in other industries in "underdeveloped" parts of the world who are recruited by foreign firms, Caribbean women have always contributed to the local economy. Within this historical context, Yelvington outlines the development of the state, and addresses exploitation and domination in the labor process. Yelvington also documents the sexually charged interactions between workers and managers and explores how both use flirting and innuendo to their advantage. Weddings and other social events outside the factory provide insightful details about how the creation of social identities carries over to all aspects of the local culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0445-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    M. Patricia Fernández-Kelly

    The release ofProducing Power: Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in a Caribbean Workplacecoincides with a significant anniversary: the publication, twenty years ago, of Rayna R. Reiter’s edited volumeToward an Anthropology of Women(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975). That book was itself a milestone, a long overdue response to the silence that had previously engulfed women as subjects of research in the social sciences. Reiter’s anthology was followed by a rich period of research whose purpose was to uncover the historical and social causes of women’s extensive subordination. Feminism infused vitality into the endeavor. At the same time,...

    (pp. 1-8)

    The young woman said, “Nigel coming like a slave driver. And they say slavery days finished. He does say, ‘If you stop work today, I have someone else here workin’ for me tomorrow.’ He knows people want to keep their jobs in these times.”

    This statement could have come from a historical study of the plantation Caribbean. It could have been said by a recently freed slave, commenting on her overseer’s attitude and the harsh conditions that prevailed on the sugar estates after the end of slavery, when many exslaves saw little change in their living conditions to match the...

    (pp. 9-40)

    This particular Thursday appears to be a day like any other in the factory. The Caribbean sun beats down on the corrugatedgalvanizemetal roof and the din of the many small and large electric fans used to catch any breeze blowing through the open windows almost drowns out the whirring and screeching of the many machines that drive the production process. The movement of hot air caused by the fans almost makes working in the heat bearable; it almost, but not quite, dries the sweat on our bodies. Perhaps, I think, if the workers placed the fans in one...

    (pp. 41-98)

    Like the rest of the Caribbean, Trinidad is not on the margin of the “socalled world system” (Mintz 1977) but, historically, squarely in the system’s foundation. Thus, our ethnographic context presupposes a unique historical one and, as such, we must specify not only the ways in which connections exist between historical situations and processes and social and cultural arrangements but also the political and economic relations of causation that distinguish these connections.

    My aim in this chapter is to explore the nexus of political and economic power relations on an international scale as they have operated in Trinidad, as well...

    (pp. 99-129)

    Observing trinidadian culture in the early 1960s V. S. Naipaul wrote: “To be modern is to ignore local products and to use those advertised in American magazines. . . . In the stores the quality of the unbranded goods is not high, the prices extravagant; the mark-up is fifty or a hundred percent, and on some goods, like Japanese knick-knacks, as much as three hundred percent: Trinidadians will not buy what they think is cheap. In December 1959, after the civil servants had received another of their pay rises, Port of Spain was sold out of refrigerators” (1981 [1962]: 48,...

  10. Chapter 4 ETHNICITY AT WORK
    (pp. 130-155)

    In the brilliant, fast-moving novel by Edgar MittelholzerA Morning at the Office(1974 [1950]), the characters who inhabit the Trinidadian office of a British-owned company during the 1940s find their lives caught up in a complex and unforgiving web of ethnicity, class, and gender—from the colonial society’s political and economic conflicts that are played out within the confines of the office, to the characters’ position within the firm and their possibilities for advancement, to the fits and starts of office romance and the novel’s underlying sexual tension.

    Because of an acute awareness of the significance of ethnicity, class,...

  11. Chapter 5 GENDER AT WORK
    (pp. 156-185)

    The calypso in Trinidad has long been a medium for political critique, pique, and satire. In 1987, during my fieldwork, sexual politics was the theme of Singing Sandra’s “Die With My Dignity,” which helped her win the Calypso Queen title. “Die With My Dignity” spoke to the plight of perhaps thousands of working women who faced daily sexual harassment at the workplace:

    Yuh want to help to mind your family

    Yuh want to help yuh man financially

    But nowadays it really very hard

    To get a job as a girl in Trinidad

    Yuh looking now to find something to do...

  12. Chapter 6 CLASS AT WORK
    (pp. 186-230)

    Recent trends in history and anthropology have explored the themes of power and, especially, the resistance to it. Studies of social, political, and economic resistance—which has been defined in various ways—proliferated in the bleak political times of the 1980s. But, like the “goods” produced by much industry, it is not at all clear how much use notions of resistance are to those of us encountering situations in our research where real power is being wielded.

    It is not at all clear whether the fairly recently returned-to Gramscian notions of hegemony can do justice to the complexity of lived...

    (pp. 231-242)

    This historical and ethnographic study of the workplace raises a number of theoretical issues relating to contemporary anthropology’s focus on identities-be they related to ethnicity, gender, nationalism, place, or religionand the relationship of identities to arrangements of power. In his bookBig Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons,Charles Tilly seeks to dismiss the “pernicious postulates” of social theory-one being that mental events cause social behavior. He argues against seeing the mind as an entity that internalizes society’s teachings and then directs behavior, and against seeing mental events as the prime ties of individuals to societies. He urges “Rather than individual...

  14. Appendix: The EUL Supervisors and Line Workers
    (pp. 243-245)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 246-256)
  16. References
    (pp. 257-277)
  17. Index
    (pp. 278-286)