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May/June 2005 · Historically Speaking 47 In Memoriam: Harry Hoetink, 1931-2005 Anthony P. Maingot The Italian theorist of elites, Gaetano Mosca, once observed that animals are not classified according to the color of their skin but by something rather more important, their anatomic structure. On the other hand, status among humans is often assigned not on essentials but on what he called "mere trivialities and appearances." What, he asked, were the consequences of schemes inspired by altogether superficial criteria? I am not aware that Mosca ever fully answered the question. Harry Hoetink dedicated much of his intellectual life to explaining how and why a triviality such as skin color became the dominant classificatory principle in Latin America and the Caribbean. Hoetink came to this line ofstudy by theoretical training and personal experience. Born in Groningen (northern Netherlands) in 1931, he did a master's degree in social geography at the University of Amsterdam and then a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Leiden. It was arguably this "mixed genre," as Pierre Bourdieu called interdisciplinary work, which allowed Hoetink to escape the dulling effects of a sociology which had already been routinized into this or that "discipline" or—even more reductionist —"school." Indeed, Hoetink was influenced primarily by such luminaries as Huizinga, Romein, Geyl, Weber, Simmel, and Marx. His dissertation, "Het Patroon van de ondse Curaçaose samenleving" (The Pattern ofOld Curaçao Society) was never translated, but much of it was incorporated into his next book, which appeared in English translation as Two Variants of Caribbean Race Relations: A Contribution to the Sociology of Segmented Societies (Oxford University Press, 1967). Hoetink argued that there were no racially homogeneous societies. All societies are characterized by the influence of somatic traits in the assignment of social status . This is especially true of "segmented societies" which at their inception were both racially and culturally heterogeneous. These "somatic modalities," as he termed them, are determined by ideals and norms that are closely linked to the physical type of the dominant group. The aesthetic preferences of the elite (the "somatic norm image") set the standard for the whole society. While these standards can evolve over time, they have been dramatically persistent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Hoetink argued that there have been two basic types ofsomatic modalities in the West: Nordic/European and Latin/Mediterranean. The argument is sustained by a formidable breadth ofcomparative history and sociology. He was not timid about speaking of "principles ," "dictums," even "laws." Thus, the "Law of Decreasing Deviation" partly explained the "Tendency to [ethnic] Homogenization." The influence of Mannheim's sociology is evident. As was to be expected in an environment dominated by American positivist-empiricism and Marxist historical materialism, the reviews were not long in coming. Typical was that of fellow sociologist and Caribbeanist, Ivar Oxaal. He spoke ofthe "serious problem ofthe credibility ofthe evidence advanced in much of this book." Critics charged that Hoetink had not established statistically verifiable comparisons but merely built theory on "his own historical argument." Yet even Oxaal admitted that the book addressed a vital problem "with a breadth of scholarship and enthusiasm which was often missing in specialized monographs on the Caribbean" (Caribbean Studies Vol. 9, No. 2 [1969]: 99). The utility ofHoetink's daring and innovative hypotheses was recognized by his most severe critics. Hoetink's second book, Slavery andRace Relations in the Americas (Harper & Row, 1971), again parted company with much of the literature on the topic. During the 1970s Hoetink published many other essays in Dutch, each advancing new and illuminating hypotheses. While living in Curaçao, Hoetink married Ligia Espinal, a native of the Dominican Republic who had studied in a Dutch high school. Hoetink had found a formidable working companion. In his next book, The Dominican People, 1850-1900: Notes for a Historical Sociology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982; originally published in Spanish in 1971), Hoetink focused on the political culture of his wife's homeland. The bulk of the study is a well-documented account of the structural changes that took place in the second half of the 19th century, especially during the reign of Ulises "Lilis" Heureaux, 1882-1899. Once again, Hoetink...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
p. 47
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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