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Reviewed by:
  • Family Love in the Diaspora: Migration and the Anglo-Caribbean Experience
  • Alan L. Karras
Family Love in the Diaspora: Migration and the Anglo-Caribbean Experience. By Mary Chamberlain ( New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006. xv plus 245 pp.).

Like the families whose stories are presented here, this well-written book has a hybrid identity. At once anthropology with its thick descriptions and reliance upon oral testimony, it is also history, with its focus on intergenerational similarities and differences. It is, as well, a work of sociology, since it analyzes a particular group in a particular place and time. There is indeed something for most social scientists in this engaging work, yet it is likely that most readers will come away somehow vaguely unsatisfied, wishing for more from one section or another, hoping for a clearer analytical interpretation than is finally presented here. Nevertheless, readers will learn a great deal simply by considering the narratives that populate these pages.

Mary Chamberlain presents readers with three generations of personal family histories. Her sample consisted of around 150 people, drawn from forty-five Caribbean families who now reside in the United Kingdom. They are almost certainly all in England, but there is no explanation of why this might be the case or, indeed, of how the sample was created beyond that contained in a footnote in the introduction (n. 2, p. 15). These families had their origins in one of the big three British Caribbean colonies: Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad. Occasionally, a reference to family members in one of the smaller islands will be made. So too are there references to branches of these families in North America. But these lineages are not the book's focal point; they are mentioned only as they relate to the 150 people whose stories are presented in the volume. [End Page 1055]

The first of the book's four parts contains a brief overview of the project and its historical context. Indeed, the historical context chapter provides perhaps the work's best explanations for the conflict between ideal European colonial notions of family and the practices in which many Afro-Caribbean people engaged while in the Caribbean. European colonists imagined that "[c]itizenship and social stability were closely related to domestic stability." (p. 29). Domestic stability, at least as Europeans defined it, was not readily apparent among the black population; British colonial authorities were therefore not keen on doing much to improve the economic and political lots for the non-white population. Chamberlain argues against the British position, by asserting that domestic stability really did exist, but in very different forms than Europeans expected. Indeed, she maintains that Afro-Caribbean family practices were generally responses to the conditions of slavery, even decades (or longer) after the institution had been abandoned. She also attempts to bring in the African roots of matriarchal societies, and those where single parent homes were common, but her evidence is never fully developed.

The book's second part considers "narratives of the family." These chapters largely contain the personal stories of Chamberlain's subjects. More anthropology than history, they describe the family experiences of those who were raised in the Caribbean, those who migrated to the UK from there, and those of their children. Common to these tales is the idea of community being used to "co-parent" children, usually accompanying the absence of the father. Chamberlain's subjects reveal that even as the families migrated to Britain, at least initially, the same patterns emerged there. "The Caribbean," the author explains, "remained a constant feature in the lives of migrants, while for those who remained in the region, migration was seen as a link with 'foreign', not a severance from home, an opportunity to extend, not disrupt the family links." (p. 91) Migration thus became a way to connect people across regions and to continue their social practices across national boundaries. Chamberlain argues for a transnational way of understanding migration, putting her work firmly in the tradition of Atlantic and global studies.

Part III, entitled "Families through the Narratives of..." contains chapters on households, children, as well as siblings, aunts and uncles. Again using personal family narratives as the evidentiary...


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