Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World

Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World

Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World

Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World


Plantations, especially sugar plantations, created slave societies and a racism persisting well into post- slavery periods: so runs a familiar argument that has been used to explain the sweep of Caribbean history. Here one of the most eminent scholars of modern social theory applies this assertion to a comparative study of most Caribbean islands from the time of the American Revolution to the Spanish American War. Arthur Stinchcombe uses insights from his own much admired Economic Sociology to show why sugar planters needed the help of repressive governments for recruiting disciplined labor. Demonstrating that island-to- island variations on this theme were a function of geography, local political economy, and relation to outside powers, he scrutinizes Caribbean slavery and Caribbean emancipation movements in a world-historical context. Throughout the book, Stinchcombe aims to develop a sociology of freedom that explains a number of complex phenomena, such as how liberty for some individuals may restrict the liberty of others. Thus, the autonomous governments of colonies often produced more oppressive conditions for slaves than did so-called arbitrary governments, which had the power to restrict the whims of the planters. Even after emancipation, freedom was not a clear-cut matter of achieving the ideals of the Enlightenment. Indeed, it was often a route to a social control more efficient than slavery, providing greater flexibility for the planter class and posing less risk of violent rebellion.


Observe that America is a rich and beautiful whore. The Christians say that Heaven punished the Indies because they adored idols, and we Indians say that Heaven will punish the Christians because they adore the Indies.

(Quevado, as quoted by Ortiz Fernández)

THIS is a descriptive book. Its main purpose is to put the history of the main macroscopic social boundaries in the Caribbean (between islands, between empires, between races and ethnic groups) into a form in which it will be accessible to those who want to theorize about it, or to carry in their minds a schematic outline of the main variations. In order to do that I have used a quite a lot of social theory, some of it invented for the purpose, but most of it fairly standard modern political economy. Social theory that is not at least good description is of no use to anyone, so I make no apology for the descriptive tone of the book.

Most of the generalizations I make about the variations among islands or empires or times in history have been made before by one or more of the great synthesizers of matters Caribbean: C. R. Boxer, Philip Curtin, Tulio Halperin Donghi, Barry W. Higman, Franklin W. Knight, Jean Merrien, Sidney Mintz, Michael G. Smith, Jean Tarrade. Many of the mechanisms that I try to make into explanations of between-island or over-time variations have been suggested by one or more of the people who write about particular islands or periods: Henri Bangou, Hilary Beckles, Michael Duffy, Charles Frostin, William Green, Allan Kuethe, Manuel Moreno Fraginals, V. S. Naipaul, Orlando Patterson, Anne Pérotin-Dumon, Marcus Rediker, Rebecca Scott, Michel-Rolf Trouillot. There is a great deal of causal thinking in all narrative, but some tellers of narratives are much more reflective about that thinking than others. Being a sociologist, I am, of course, much less devoted to the art form in which the causal scaffolding is buried in subordinate clauses, or disassembled after the narrative is constructed, than the average historian. But I hope that the reader does not have to dig too hard to get the descriptive story out of my account.

To write this book I had to read a lot about the Caribbean, since I started with a tabula nearly rasa. That reading was supported by a year's leave, roughly a third supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, two-

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