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Creole Economics

Caribbean Cunning under the French Flag

By Katherine E. Browne

Publication Year: 2004

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.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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pp. ix-xiii

My interest in Martinique began halfway around the world in the South Pacific, where indigenous Tahitian cultures had been colonized by the French. Following five months of graduate work in Tubuai, a tiny island on the Tropic of Capricorn in French Polynesia,

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvii

Long-term fieldwork in another society can demand a disorienting combination of skills—modesty but confidence, patience but initiative, conformity but an adventurous spirit. Because the work requires intimate engagement with the real lives and everyday dramas of strangers, the dizzying amount of information and the sometimes confusing instincts for how to manage life lead naturally to seeking help.

Part One: Groundings

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Chapter 1: Elements

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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...

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Chapter 2: Social Histories: The Weight of France in Martinique

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pp. 17-40

Five giant grocery stores, known as les hypermarch

Part Two: Frameworks

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Chapter 3: Cultural Economies: Relating Social Values to Economic Theory in Martinique

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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.

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Chapter 4: Afro-Caribbean Identities: Postcolonial Tensions and Martinique’s Creole Débrouillard [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 81-115

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...

Part Three: Practices

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Chapter 5: Adaptations of Cunning: The Changing Forms of D

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pp. 119-150

The original wound of slavery conditions both the fact of creole-style d

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Chapter 6: Opportunism by Class: The Profit and Status of Undeclared Work

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pp. 151-175

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...

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Chapter 7: Women, Men, and Economic Practice: Different Routes to Autonomy and Status

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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.

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Epilogue: Imagining the Future of Creole Economics

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pp. 209-213

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...

Notes

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pp. 215-244

Glossary

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pp. 245-246

References Cited

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pp. 247-259

Index

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pp. 261-271


E-ISBN-13: 9780292797345
E-ISBN-10: 0292797346
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292702929
Print-ISBN-10: 0292702922

Page Count: 291
Illustrations: 19 halftones, 24 line drawings, 3 figures, 1 map
Publication Year: 2004