Theoretical Perspectives on the Stasis of Class Relations in the Caribbean: the Belize Case Study

Joseph Iyo & Michael Rosberg


Many writers have tried to explore the concept of change in the Caribbean (Melville Herskovitz, 1941; Eric Williams, 1944; Gordon Lewis, 1983; Elsa V. Goveia, 1956; Eugene Genovese, 1979). We, on the other hand, are looking at the phenomenon of stasis. To do this, we employ functionalist and conflict theories, and also look at more recent theories which focus on process rather than structure. We have acknowledged the contributions of both approaches since one gives us an understanding of the society, and the other, of the individual. The advantage of combining these theoretical perspectives in the case of the Caribbean is that both are necessary to comprehend the phenomenon of what we call 'dynamic stasis'. Structural theories are used to explain the historical process; whereas, the process theories are used to explain the dynamic sociological interactions which occur against the 'given' of social fact. Hence, stasis becomes a dynamic phenomenon which can be studied. The process of retaining class relations can be studied in motion.

Using Functionalist and Conflict Theories to Explain Stasis in the Caribbean

This section will attempt to provide:

  1. An operational definition of what is meant by stasis. Here we intend to use Amartya Sen's concept of Development as Freedom (Sen, 1999)
  2. An explanation of what causes stasis in the Caribbean, and
  3. An analysis of how stasis manifests itself in the Caribbean.

Amartya Sen is of a view that development is not a function of rising GDP. Rather, it is the existence of freedom which he defines as economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. Furthermore, these are sustained by a range of institutions including the state, the market, the legal system, political parties, the media, public interest groups, and public discussion forums among others. "Development can [thus] be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy" (Sen, 1999:3).

"Unfreedom, [on the other hand] can arise either through inadequate processes, or through inadequate opportunities that some people have for achieving what they minimally would like to achieve" (Sen, 1993:17). In our usage, it is under these very conditions of unfreedom that stasis exists.

In trying to determine the cause of the phenomenon of stasis as a "social fact" in Belize, or the Caribbean for that matter, we must go back to history. History has shown that stasis is immutable and therefore each phase requires a new kind of explanation — the type we are trying to propose in this paper. Stasis is not a dormant phenomenon, it is dynamic and changes and yet retains most of its characteristics — and this tends to explain its immutability. Why and how can stasis change and yet remain unchanged may appear contradictory. However, it is the manner by which this contradiction resolves itself within the particular era that ensures it perseverance and immutability. Thus if we accept the view that Belizean society, or the Caribbean society for that matter, can be said to have sui generis a life of its own — incorporating both organic and mechanic solidarity that ensures stasis — bound together by common values — values-consensus? — based on shared and common experiences — normative behavior? — then it becomes quite easy to accept the view that stasis has evolved in the Caribbean in general, and Belize in particular, as a social construct rather than as given — as Thomas Hobbes, Human Nature, 1650, would have us believe — and represents the collective wisdom of the Caribbean/Belizean people. Even though one of the parties, signatory to the social contract (slave master, colonial master, and post-colonial masters) has changed in each historical era, the other signatory (the slave; the colonial subject; the post-colonial "have-not") has remained constant, changing only in name. Similarly, even though, the personality of the dominant power in the social contract has changed in the different historical eras, the fact that all of them have retained the mode of production intact has tended to ensure the immutability of relations of production and hence stasis in class relations.

The relationships between the powerful and the majority of "have-nots" attest to an essential stasis of class relations in the Caribbean, notwithstanding 170 years of economic and political change. [We use the Emancipation Act, 1833, as the point from which class relations have remained essentially unchanged.] Classical theories of structural-functionalism (Hobbes, Durkheim), conflict theory (Marx) and social action theory (Weber) explain the effect of social solidarity, false consciousness, thought, emotion and tradition, respectively, on maintaining static class relationships. In their attempt to create and sustain a new society in the Caribbean, the constant importations of Europeans and Africans precluded integration of all these incoming elements (see for example, Smith's theory of plural society). Thus, the barriers between the different groups remained phenomenal. In addition, cultural barriers were at the same time also social, economic and ethnic barriers. Hence, Horst's apt conclusion that the "Caribbean societies were incomplete societies with almost impregnable barrier between the elite and the class consisting solely of black African slaves" (Horst Pietschmann, 1999).

Functionalist theory is built on the assumption that society is organized according to set rules and the structure of that society can be seen as the sum total of the normative behavior. If this be the case, can we therefore seek to explain how the relationships between the slave master and the slave, the colonial master and the subject people, and the post-colonial political elite and the majority of the have-nots were/are being constructed according to set rules? By the same token, can the structure of the society be seen as the sum total of that normative behavior cultivated historically over time?

Conflict theorists, on the other hand, hold the view that there are fundamental differences of interest between the social groups within the society and that these differences result in conflict being a common phenomenon. Conflict theorists stress the existence of competing groups (Marx, 1948). Marx takes this conflict theory to a higher level and insists on:

  1. The material condition — historical materialism, and
  2. The level of consciousness among the dominated class.

Thus, within the slave-based, colonial-based and post-colonial-based economy (mode of production), material possession particularly land ownership solidified and also ossified the class structure built on inequality. One would therefore ask the following questions:

  1. Why was/is there no major conflict to resolve this inequality in the different phases of Caribbean or Belizean history?
  2. How did/does the contradiction and conflict between the "center" and the "periphery" lead to stasis (stagnation) in the Caribbean?

We find that the new emergent forces — classes? — in the different historical phases of the Caribbean society were/are superficial and not structural. What M. G. Smith is saying is that Caribbean societies were constructed in such a way that it precluded blacks, browns and whites from sharing the same common interests. Rather, each cultural group was organized into discreet and parallel vertical entities. Elsewhere, Rosberg has demonstrated how alliances are opportunistically forged across categories of cultural, ethnicity, religion, political and religious affiliation and gender. The real basis for alliance is one which retains privilege and status (Rosberg, 1980).

The structure of exploitation has remained intact whereas the social actors kept changing. The economic substructure basically remained the same, linking the Caribbean society and its economy to the "center" albeit in a dysfunctional way. Here Marx is at his best when he insists that change is most phenomenal when it is the result of contradiction and conflict in the economic system. In the Caribbean, and Belize in particular, it is not as if these conflicts and contradictions do not exist. Functionalists would argue that, it is because of the type of education and consciousness of the majority of have-nots that atrophy and hence stasis are ensured.

Conflict theory does not necessarily imply violence — it could manifest itself in the labor movement (as we have seen in the post-1945 Caribbean) aimed at protecting the interest of the have-nots. What we hope to illustrate here is the concept of equal opportunity. When the have-nots fail to have access to equal opportunities, what are their options? Even if we accept the view that Conflict theory is synonymous to violence, can we not learn a lesson from the Haitian Revolution? We know for example that the Haitian Revolution led ultimately to stasis because the mode of production inherited from the Old Regime — that the slave masters had put in place — remained intact. At the end of the revolution, a minority parasitic petite bourgeois class facilitated the maintenance of the center/periphery mode of production, which in turn determined the perpetuation of the existing exploitative relations of production and hence stasis.

The Haitian Revolution succeeded, the positivists would argue, because the majority of (individual) Haitians collectively believed in the potent powers of voodoo (which comprised the peoples' collective conscience"). Voodoo was thus able to bring Haitians together and reinforce their shared values and common moral beliefs and hence integration of the group (Emile Durkheim, Bronislaw Malinowski). While agreeing that voodoo was important in promoting social solidarity and reinforcing social values, it also led to stasis in class relations once the battle was won and then lost by the ordinary Haitians. Since the majority of Haitian have-nots were largely uneducated and unable to increase their informational base (Sen, 1999) to challenge the New Regime (which reached its worst stage of exploitation under Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier), stasis was able to legitimize itself in another form described as clientelism (discussed below).

Based on the above analysis, it is little wonder that the conflict theory in the Belizean case study has found little room to manifest itself. In the Belize case study, we find that the seemingly inherent contradictions in all the historical eras easily resolve themselves. Thus, the Central American immigrant coming from an environment of social consciousness and a culture of intense conflict and resistance to exploitation is easily deconstructed and reconstructed into a Belizean mold of compliance and hence stasis. The important thing to note from the above analysis is that whenever there is a slight or vague awareness of the existing contradictions in the Caribbean society, the result is temporary conflict (conflict theory?) as seen repeatedly in Jamaica. For Belize, this temporary awareness is not possible because the people have learned to scorn conflict. Thus Belize remained largely untouched by the revolutions in the neighboring Central American countries in the 1980s and 1990s. Conflict theory does not necessarily imply violence; it could manifest itself into a labor movement aimed at protecting the interest of the have-nots.

Not many scholars will argue against the view that, as the Belizean society or the Caribbean society for that matter, evolved through the various historical stages, there arose expectations of patterns of behavior and conduct among its citizens — and that the result has been a "collective consciousness" to behave in a particular manner. In this state of affairs, the emergence of Caribbean social norms, both prescriptive and proscriptive, were/are aimed at maintaining a status quo ante in the society notwithstanding the sustained challenges that were/are coming from within and without — including the forces of globalization.

Using the functionalist approach, we see the emergence of stasis as a social fact (institution) transmitted from generation to generation leaving few choices — the type that characterized the slave based society or the colonial based society for that matter — the type that left the slave or the colonial subject or post-colonial citizen with few or no choices other than those determined by the slave master or the colonial master or the post-colonial political elite. In most slave-based societies, slave production through the so-called plantations was to reduce the cost of feeding slaves at the masters' expense. And in the Belize situation, this was strictly regulated, as seen in the passage of a law in 1803 forbidding "a slave to hire himself to himself with a view to pursue trade", and a recommendation in 1810 that "slaves of either sex shall not be permitted to hire themselves to themselves for any purpose whatever" (Shoman, 1995: 40-41). Even if some were allowed to own plantations, were these plantations large enough to lead to sizeable surplus for re-investment and hence the development of sustainable capital (Capital formation)?

The next pertinent question is how did this culture of stasis sustain itself to become manifested in the present form? There is need to examine the range of choices for the dominated class in the three different phases of Caribbean society. Assuming that we accept the mode of production thesis, we can then proceed to examine the nature and character of the socializing process within the slave-based, colonial-based, and post-colonial-society in the Caribbean to determine the role of the family unit (Iyo, 2000), the education system (Bennett, 1991), and the church ("IDEA", SPEAR Newsletter), in the socialization process. Suffice to note that, according to the functionalist perspective, the education system hand-in-glove with the church reinforced stasis as a cannon and taught the society to recognize stasis and respect it as a way of life — and not only scorn change but more importantly rebuke those who attempt to introduce change in the society (Ashdown, 1990).

Cal has amply demonstrated the role of colonial education on the colonized as follows:

The Anglo-Saxons had no interest in educating their slaves to read and write, much less to become critical of slave society ... As for secondary education, the colonial secretary was vehemently opposed. He feared flooding the market with 'recruits eligible for employment,' for whom 'it would be impossible to provide careers, and British Honduras may soon be added to the list of territories suffering from a parasitic pseudo-intelligentsia (Cal, 1991).

After emancipation in 1833, the English did use the church and its appendage, the school, to stress obedience to constituted authority and minimal level of literacy and numeracy for the ex-slave, the colonial subject, and the post-colonial citizen, in that order. Functional education on the other hand was deemed too dangerous — and irrelevant — for a people that were and are still considered as mere objects of exploitation and tools of maximizing production and hence profits.

Thus we can say that the state of stasis in the Caribbean and Belize in particular is similar to what Durkheim described as symptomatic of "mechanical solidarity, which comes from likeness, ... when the collective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience and coincides with all points in it. But at that moment our individuality is nil" (cited in Intro to Sociology, UWI, 1998). Because Belize is a small society, it has been possible to monitor and control dissenting voices through time and space. At the same time, Belizeans through time and space, have recognized the power of external coercion — the slave master supported by the West Indian Regiment, the colonial regime supported by the local police force, and the post-colonial political elite supported by the emergent minority parasitic petite bourgeoisie, that not only inherited these institutions, but more importantly, has perfected the use of coercive forces in much the same way as its forebears. We can therefore argue that the agents of coercion — covert and overt — have thus become social facts, recognized by Caribbean people and Belizeans in particular as coercive agents that must be respected and obeyed. Indeed, many would argue that even the legal system in Belize supports the culture of stasis and hence the status quo ante by the manner in which justice or injustice is dispensed or carried out and enforced disproportionately — punishing the lower class have-nots in a manner that reinforces their conception of the order in the society in which stasis is a way of life to be honored and cherished. Similarly, the majority of the members of the society are constrained by social facts — that is, by ways of thinking, acting, and feeling external to the individual. It is therefore, not the consciousness of the individual that directs his behavior, but rather, common belief and sentiments that shapes the individual's "consciousness of being." In this case, stasis has become the individual's "consciousness of being" (apologies, Karl Marx). This explains why Marx insisted that: "It is not the consciousness of men [and women] that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness" (Karl Marx).

Using Durkheim's analysis of what constitutes social facts, we note that, social facts — the institutions in the Caribbean/Belize — operate separately from its social actors (i.e. Belizeans or the Caribbean people) and the two together constitute a system or society, which obeys its own inexorable laws of nature (apologies, Thomas Hobbes). Through its control of the means of production, the emergent political class in the Caribbean is able to control, command, and enjoy the fruits of the labor of the laboring under-class. Hence a conflict of interest between the minority — who own the means of production — and the majority — who perform productive labor — does not necessarily lead to a revolution as Marx predicted in his Communist Manifesto. Rather, the Caribbean people remain largely trapped in stasis or unfreedom. The freedom of agency that the Caribbean people/Belizeans individually have is inescapably qualified and constrained by the social, political and economic opportunities that are available to them. To counter this stasis (unfreedom) in class relations, Caribbean persons or Belizeans, must see individual freedom as a social commitment, a process that allows freedom of actions and decisions, and the actual opportunities, given their personal and social circumstances (Amartya Sen, 1999).

It is true that the primary aspect of the Caribbean society has been determined by the types of relationships entered into for the production of material life. This view of reality is largely shaped by the social relationship involved in the process of production. It is true that these relationships have largely been reproduced and internalized by way of education and religious beliefs through time and space. The result is that the relationship between the minority who control the means of production and those who control nothing except their labor is viewed as normal and natural. In Belize, for example, slavery is thus glorified and the master and his race elevated over and above the subject people. Those who inherited the power vacated by the slave masters have been successively placed on that same pedestal and the status quo ante is maintained.

The successor elite who also control the political economy of the emergent post-colonial Caribbean in turn enact laws that legitimize and protect the rights of the privileged few to monopolize land and power (M.G. Smith, 1965). This emergent political elite supported by the religious elite use religious beliefs to justify the socio-economic and political arrangement inherited from the colonial master. Thus, the interest of the religious and the political class converge to justify and sustain stasis as natural, preordained and inevitable. In this scenario, Marx would argue, "the contradictions within the economic infrastructure are compounded by the contradiction between human consciousness and objective reality."

The functionalists' stress on value-consensus has helped us in our understanding of the Caribbean society. Despite acknowledging the theoretical contributions of functionalist theorists, there is no denying the fact that conflicts have occurred within the same society albeit temporarily. It is therefore important to note the weakness of both functionalist structuralism and conflict theories as employed in this paper. Similarly, it is true that many Caribbeanists have laid emphasis on culture rather than the substructure — that is, the mode of production — the economic system that supported, and still supports the legal, political, and religious systems in the Caribbean.

Greenfield's and Strickon's stress on the role of the individual rather than the society in the establishment of patron-client relations may appear to be problematic. But, by combining both our understanding of the role of the individual and the role of the society simultaneously, and how both collectively create and sustain patron-client relations, we may be better placed to understand the dynamism of stasis in the Caribbean. We are not positing that those "clients" that attend "clinics" — manned by elected politicians on Wednesdays in Belize — love the idea of begging. Neither do we assume that the have-nots who live in abject squalor (the so-called London bridges) consider begging a wise behaviour. We need to determine the level of informational base of this majority have-nots. It is assumed that majority of these have-nots are the same 33% classified as living below poverty line, whose choices actually are limited.

The power of individual capacity to "actually manipulate the resources they control within the constraints of their circumstances" (as postulated by Greenfield and Strickon) should not be stretched too far. Can our mode of behavior go at all beyond narrowly defined self-interest? "It is not so much the impossibility of rational social choice [of the individual], but the impossibility that arises when we try to base social choice on a limited class of informational base [that concerns us most in this paper]" (Amartya Sen, 1999: 250).

Greenfield and Strickon accept the truism that society as a concept is still alive. When aggregates of individuals tend to behave in a similar manner, there a possibility that a kind of socialization is taking place involving those individuals in a collective manner. And if indeed, socialization of individuals is taking place, we can say that this is a social construct. Indeed, Durkheim, unlike Marx (who saw the division of labor as divisive), believed that division of labor could increase the inter-dependence of the haves and have-nots in the society and so reinforce social solidarity and hence stasis as can be illustrated in the Caribbean situation. This is the root of the organic solidarity alluded to above. It needs stressing that, the interdependence of skills and the exchange of goods and services are in themselves insufficient as bases for social solidarity. The specialized division requires rules and regulations, a set of moral codes, which restrain the individual and provide a framework for cooperation. The exchange of goods and services cannot be based exclusively on self-interest, for where interest is the only ruling force, each individual finds herself at war with every other (Intro to Sociology, UWI, 1998, p. 118).

The interdependence of classes is similar to Durkheim's concept of division of labor, which, in turn, resembles Adam Smith's discussion on the merits of economic exchange in the Wealth of Nations. According Adam Smith, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest, we address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love ... (Sen, 1999, p. 256 and fn. 11). By establishing a consensus about the rewards various members of the society could reasonably and justifiably expect, normative limits would be placed on individual desire. Thus, consensus would form the basis for rules to regulate economic activity. In the Caribbean, there is no shortage of rules. However, there is frequently a dearth of consensus. Rules, as a result, are imposed to reduce chaos. It is the imposition of controls from above which reifies class stasis.

Process Theories Including Clientelism

However slight or vague the awareness of contradictions in the Caribbean, there is enough of it over a long enough period of time to refute the notion of have-not contentment with the status quo. The generally short and unsuccessful rebellions throughout the Caribbean — including Belize's uprisings in the second half of the eighteenth century (Shoman, A. 1994) — may testify to a distaste for conflict, compared to the violence of Central America, but not to a total rejection of the strategy. When oppression is sufficiently great and alternatives are lacking, Caribbeans-including Belizeans-have frequently rebelled.

Perhaps rebellion in Belize has been less violent and sustained than in the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America because the situation of Belizeans has provoked less drastic reactions. And that possibility raises interesting questions: Have less favoured Belizeans historically found themselves in a position to do more for themselves than the peasants elsewhere in the region? (In the strict sense of the word, Belize does not have a peasantry. They are what one may refer to as part-time farmers and part "internal migrant" workers.) Have they been able to work out more beneficial compromises with those holding the upper hand? Do they, therefore, have relatively less need for violent rejection of the status quo, and are there relatively fewer of them willing to opt for violence? If, for the periods of slavery, post-slavery colonialism, and the post-colonial period, there has been a rebuke to those attempting to introduce change in the society, there may well have been additional factors — more immediate, more rewarding, and less abstract — than the socialization process at work. It is not that what has been learned has not had power over the conservative individual, but rather that, in addition to stasis as a social construct, there are powerful and immediate incentives and constraints which make it more logical to resist change than embrace it. An understanding of stasis then becomes a search for factors which reward a conservative strategy

In the time of oppression, rebellion may not be the only behaviour to occur, and there is evidence that additional alternatives may be operating. A report to the Spanish in 1793 from the cotton-growing Island of San Andrés in the southwestern Caribbean, inhabited by Englishmen and their slaves, said that slaves were given land and time to keep subsistence gardens for their masters and themselves, and that surplus crops were traded on the visiting schooners for cloth and other imported necessities. Some of the slaves' time was also spent fishing and turtling along the reefs (Parsons, 1964), and those turtle shells were also traded for imports (Turnage, 1975,24). The era of slavery in San Andrés should not be equated with the social and economic conditions which are usually considered integral to plantation agriculture in the southern United States, the larger Caribbean islands and the northern coast of South America. While cotton was the Island's principal export, monoculture was never practiced. Most subsistence crops were grown on holdings of only a few acres, and the surplus was exported for imported manufactured items. Relationships among slaves, free blacks and masters were necessarily complex since the place is tiny (7 miles by 2), limited in productivity by erratic weather patterns, and because both blacks and whites needed to work in the fields. Owner absenteeism was seldom possible, and heightened opportunities existed for informal transactions to occur across class and racial boundaries. These sometimes took the place of the enforcement by means of the whip and suppression of rebellion by military force. A measure of compliance of slaves was won by masters at the cost of letting them fish and farm, and sell some of their turtle shells and produce to the schooners. And perpetuation of slavery was the long-term price paid by slaves' benefiting marginally from short-term privileges earned; the benefit, of course, was the ability to survive.

The San Andrés example should not be taken to represent an abandonment of rebellion. A measure of passive resistance may well have accompanied apparent compliance in the years between actual uprisings. In fact, a joke told by the centenarian daughter of slaves in San Andrés suggests this occurred: a slave was ordered by his 'massa' (i.e. master) to fetch the horse in a torrential rainstorm. The slave muttered under his breath: "Massa haas, maasa rass!" (Master's horse? Master's an asshole!). The master overheard. "Slave! what's that you say?" he demanded. The slave replied: "Massa hass, massa grass!" (It's master's horse and it's master's grass.)

Theories which only postulate social facts powerful enough to shape entirely the consciousness of people need to ignore the historical reality of those people who have thought for themselves; that is, who have not been totally domesticated by the teachings of colonial churches and schools, who have innovated, and who have exhibited a willingness to rebel. If the power of what everybody thought was appropriate had been sufficient-and maintained merely through the teachings of the churches, and the humiliation of rote learning and the schoolroom hickory stick (or, in the case of Belize, the sash cord) — then there would have been no need to contain rebellion. Yet, the classroom teacher did (and still does) have to make recourse to the use of the sash cord to enforce discipline. And, in the hundred years following slavery, owners extracting mahogany from their woodlots, who depended on freed blacks for labour, did have to hold labourers through debt peonage (called Truck and Advance in Belize), and did have to maintain and enforce laws which criminalized breaches of labour contracts and made them punishable by imprisonment. This is not to say that learned behaviours have no explanatory power. On the contrary, what we are taught to believe has a powerful influence over us; though not an exclusive one. But, faced with threats to survival, or with opportunities for self-betterment, people are quite able to ignore their beliefs and values. Caribbean populations, including Belizeans are no less capable of pragmatism than anybody else. Hence, persistent inequity between haves and have-nots has to be explained, not on the basis of the uniqueness of Caribbean peoples, but on the basis of their being like everybody else, and immersed in a unique reality. It is not, therefore, the society which is bizarre, but rather the conditions within which the society (or social relations) develop and is replicated across modes of production including slavery, post-slavery colonialism, and the post-colonial era.

So where oppression should breed rebellion alone, it may not; and where false consciousness (may we call this 'consciousness lowering'?) should obviate the need for oppression, it cannot — at least, not entirely.

Something is missing from theories which explain social structures and ignore the choices being made by people living within them; which see social facts as sole determinants, and reduce social actors to witless pawns. If there has been 170 years of dynamic stasis in the Caribbean, there is a need to explain how people have achieved the phenomenon, and, perhaps more importantly, why? The very process of social interaction — of making those choices which facilitate survival at the price of continued dependence — has to be explained. And in the case of the Caribbean, it must also explain how there can be adaptive behaviours being selected while class stasis is essentially retained.

Stasis in the Caribbean is better understood as a product of the interaction between individuals and their environment (that is, pressures from social, cultural, economic, environmental and political quarters). What has been happening in the Caribbean from the time of slavery, to post-slavery colonialism, and from then into the post-colonial era is more complex, rational and articulated than a mere clash of mode and counter-mode of production, with the inevitable replication of have and have-not relations of production. The inequitable relations of production have particular and changing relevance to individuals on both sides of the un-level playing field.

Some of the theorists who have departed from structural analysis of society, to examine its inherent processes, offer valuable insight to students of Caribbean stasis. For example, the Phenomenologist, Alfred Schütz was inspired by Edmund Husserl's observation that one's experience of phenomena appears in the 'stream of consciousness' (Campbell, 1981). His starting point is that of the individual, essentially isolated from all other humans by virtue of consciousness. An individual can observe others, but ultimately, can experience only his or her own consciousness. Schütz felt that 'apperception' results from our deliberate attention to 'objects' and they are shaped by past experiences and acquired knowledge. Each of us, therefore, has a subjective 'life-world'. He observed that man must 'define his situation' and draw on a common 'stock of knowledge'. Others exist, he argued, and act. Their 'typifications' become standardized and shared. Ultimately, a society is linguistic because it is through language alone that we attempt to bridge the divide between our isolated apperceptions. 'We-groups', as he calls individuals from the same culture, have shared typifications; strangers don't, and the dysfunction can be an obstacle to inclusion. So we learn to fit in so as to minimize the rejection. Rules, roles, status and institutions are extensions (he calls them 'constructs') of this process. Schütz has reversed the perception of the classical theorists. The individual becomes the focus; interaction, the by-product, and language, the means of creating the metaphenomenon: society.

George Herbert Mead, a student of Schütz, developed a school of 'Symbolic Interactionism' based on Schütz' notions of phenomenology (ibid). It is, he said, the impartial spectator in ourself who becomes the 'generalized other' attempting to understand and interpret gestures and speech. Social structures, roles and institutions affect our behaviour through common meanings and symbols of the group and through exchanges between individuals.

Both Phenomenology and of Symbolic Interactionism were part of the theoretical movement in sociology which is concerned primarily with interactions. They shifted their attention (and ours) from an examination of the impact of society on each of us, to one of the impact each of us has in generating society. Individuals become the creators, or more accurately, the replicators of society.

To this point, nothing has been said about social stasis or social change. However, the shift from social by-product or structure to the processes in which actors are engaged, and which are generating apparent social structures, introduces the potential for deepening our understanding of the phenomenon of class stasis in the Caribbean.

For the anthropologist, Fredrik Barth, individual decision-making is important. He investigates relevant costs and benefits associated with choices made. Observing the economic survival strategies of Norwegian and Malay fishermen, Barth argues that both the role of learned factors (i.e. culture) and perceived pressures (i.e. economic factors) seem to matter. He is acknowledging a dialectic between social and natural environmental pressure, and the individual decision-maker. With this contribution, comes, perhaps for the first time in sociology, an ability to predict behaviour given knowledge of relevant learnings and external circumstances. For Caribbean studies, new kinds of questions can be asked as a result. For example, Why would Caribbean leaders not introduce changes which shift the paradigm of a powerful few and the many have-nots? And why would dependent individuals — who have less to spend, less to eat, whose children have fewer opportunities, and who face higher risks of illness and early death — not push for change? The implication is that, as we saw with masters and slaves in San Andrés Island, Colombia, there must be enough advantages for haves as well as have-nots, sufficiently attractive to prevent either side for opting for change; and the disincentives for seeking change, must be similarly forbidding. That is, we should be able to predict that an insufficient number of haves and/or have-nots are pressing for change, to upset the status quo of class.

Curline J. Edie described the political economy of modern Jamaica in terms of clientelism. Clientelism was characterized as follows:

Patron-client ties are among the most conspicuous features of political behaviour in Jamaica. Hundreds of demands are made daily on public and political figures in the urban areas of Kingston and the rural parishes. These demands are met largely through interventions of the elected officials in the affairs of the municipal bureaucracy, whereby bureaucratic elites are instructed to dispense resources to reward loyal party supporters... democratic politics in Jamaica is maintained by state-controlling party elites who grant patronage resources in exchange for party support. Internal political order hinges on the political directorate's ability to obtain international capital transfers.
(Edie, Carlene J, 1989, 38/1:1)

Thus, clientelism is a system which ties have-nots to haves in an unequal distribution of desired or required opportunities. The dependency is perpetuated because the haves derive legitimacy from the have-nots. That gains them access to the supply of opportunities. At the same time, the have-nots obtain opportunities from those they legitimize. So long as the patrons distribute adequate opportunities to the clients, the patron is sustained. Competing patrons vie, therefore, for the support of a constituency. In such a situation, no ambitious neophyte politician will be able to receive constituency support without distributing opportunities. For this reason, alliances among patrons with varying levels of access to opportunities become attractive. And for this reason also, factions among various alliances become inevitable as they compete for access to the pork barrel. The dynamic of creating or joining alliances, and of breaking away from them in favour of competing factions becomes a dynamic which gives tremendous staying power (or stasis) to the inequitable division between haves and have-nots which results.

In the article, Edie describes the perpetuation of clientelism during the socialist government of Michael Manley and the free market era of Edward Seaga. Though supporting diametrically opposed political philosophies, neither Prime Minister is motivated to dismantle clientelism. Edie implies that the phenomenon must be seen as a key ingredient for successful management of Jamaica, and specifies its particular value to both administrations and to the population in very different times. Edie's description of the Jamaican patronage system — and the way it is reconfigured in two administrations — provides an excellent example of the way in which individual selections of the best available option allow the political system to shift and the political actors to change, while the class system remains essentially untouched.

Where resources are scarce (e.g. food, water and sanitation, shelter, income-generation opportunities, information) clients will tend to support those who have access to resource (i.e. patrons and their gate-keepers). They will be motivated to compete with their peers for preference by patrons, and they will have a tendency to punish inferiors to exact obedience and optimize access to patrons. The effect of such behaviour will be to increase disunity among peers, thus thwarting the ability to negotiate with patrons for better opportunities or to rebel against them effectively. At the same time, client loyalty will sustain the advantageous position held by the patrons. So long as patrons devour most of the opportunities themselves, there will be little left to share among the clients, and resources will remain scarce. Thus, the cycle is perpetuated. It is the combination of internalized social facts about the appropriateness of the status quo as well as the reinforcement of those beliefs through daily bitter experience with peers which work against the development of sustainable alternatives. There can be false consciousness in the sense that not enough is known of the inequity or the advantages of organization around class interest. But it is also true that "Sunday Christians" who know fully well the value of egalitarianism, forgiveness and co-operation, have to survive in the competitive Monday marketplace. Knowing a better strategy, and finding the conditions which allow one to implement it are two different things.

Clientelism, as we have seen, tends to lock people into making difficult choices to survive, or to advance one's position in an atmosphere of constraints. Where there is clientelism, there is gate-keeping. A few individuals have more direct access to resources and opportunities. Everybody else has to organize their lives in a way which gains them access to enough benefits to survive, and, when lucky and shrewd, to move ahead. As a result, clients must develop their ability to work people to the extent that physical resources and jobs are not directly open to them. Social manipulation becomes a kind of art form.

One plays the games because everybody else is already caught up in the competition. Opportunities not seized may quickly be snapped up by others. Advantages held, may be viewed with greedy eyes. Hence, strategies must be developed and deployed to elbow out, restrict and destabilize competitors; to solidify and amplify connections to patrons; to build useful alliances which broaden the potential for benefiting from resources entering the community; and, to outmaneuver competing factions. But it is also necessary to maintain flexibility. An alliance at one moment may reduce personal options at another. Members of one's alliance may demand too much of one's resources. And people in competing factions at one moment, may become attractive as allies later on.

Life, in a clientelistic environment, is an extremely complex piece of decision-making. Perpetual vigilance is required, and enormous energy, to react quickly, forcefully and appropriately. Every option must be worked. High intelligence is an obvious advantage; so are looks while youth lasts, and personality. Wealth and connections are invaluable. One must be ready to take advantage of the potential for opening or terminating alliances based on gender, kinship, ethnicity, skin colour, religion, political affiliation, employment, geographical location, and any other commonality which can be discovered or invented.

Greenfield and Strickon were two anthropologists elevating Barth's ideas on decision-making. In 1971, Sidney Greenfield and Arnold Strickon published a book on structure and process in which they introduced a theory of social change which they called "populational decision-making" (Greenfield and Strickon, 1971). The quasi-Darwinian metaphor of adaptation concerns itself with populations of individual, goal-directed organisms in an environment (1971:338). In an unpublished paper (1977), Greenfield and Strickon specify the social analogy to the Darwinian theory of natural selection:

By analogy we maintain that some of the varying behaviors performed by some of the members of a human community will enable them to obtain more resources — more of their goals — than will the behaviors performed by others. These behaviors in the environmental setting could be viewed as being more adaptive than behaviors that obtain fewer resources for those who perform them. Extending the analogy then, it would follow that as in the biological model where successful variants have more offspring, so in the social world those behaviors that result in the acquisition of relatively larger amounts of available resources for those who perform them may be considered more adaptive. The more successful variants of behavior then could be expected to be found in increased frequency at later periods of time. The result would be a process comparable to Darwin's theory of natural selection. But whereas in biological evolution the effects of natural selection are transmitted by genetic means, in the model of social reality, we are proposing the effects are transmitted by means of learning (pp. 46-47).

The authors say that individuals are goal-directed and that the goals for which they strive may be more complex than food, water or shelter. The decisions are made, they say, within "social contexts in which they are interacting with (1) material and biological things in the environment, (2) other members of their communities, and (3) the symbolic abstractions and definitions they have come to share with specific others" (Ibid., p. 50). Individuals are in the process of allocating the resources available to them. Strickon and Greenfield are careful to state that the focus upon process is one used in addition to descriptions of social structure. They do not imply that individuals are decision-makers operating in a social or cultural vacuum, independent of the constraining influence of the institutions which are part of their environment. Indeed, they recognize that roles and statuses and the expectations which accompany them can be found in situ prior to the activity of particular members of society. They recognize that these institutions and the roles established within them can provide individuals with access to desired resources. But Strickon and Greenfield suggest that it is necessary to study the ways in which individuals of concern to us actually manipulate the resources they control within the constraints of their circumstances. The economic assumptions which are inherent in Strickon and Greenfield's decision-making approach are made explicit by Samuel Popkin (Popkin: 1971). He expects "that peasants are continuously striving not merely to protect but to raise their subsistence level through long- and short-term investments, both public and private" (Ibid.: 14). He offers data from Vietnam to support these assumptions.

Greenfield and Strickon are interested in social change. But the principle of a modal shift in the behaviour of a population over time is equally applicable to the Caribbean situation where, as Edie demonstrates, the actors and political philosophies are replaced, while the relationship between haves and have-nots remains essentially constant.

This populational decision-making theory (and those of Schütz, Mead, Barth and others) is a departure from the structural theories of society, and an extension of the more recent theories of process. For one thing, the focus of attention is no longer society, as it affects individuals, but individuals within a context of opportunities and constraints. For another, individuals are not portrayed as the pawns of circumstance, but as rational decision-makers negotiating their way through an environment consisting of material and biological things, other people, and concepts and meanings shared with some others (but not all). Conscious decision-making, by the way, is not being implied, nor is it seen as necessary. People are not particularly aware of the reasons for their choices. It's just that, given their beliefs and options, they do choose.

Greenfield and Strickon explain that when we talk about the behaviour of any population, we are only looking at the modal point in a broad distribution of behaviours. Within the population, some individuals — they call them 'entrepreneurs' as did Joseph Schumpeter — are trying out new combinations of behaviour in response to current conditions. Where conditions permit, some of those initiatives can bring greater rewards than do the modal behaviours. The demonstration effect allows other interested members of the population to adopt the behaviour of the early adapters. If, however, the risks of changing strategies are too great, then, notwithstanding conditions of increasing scarcity and need, and the attraction of better alternatives, it is possible to predict that no shift will occur. So there can be an environmental change and no modal shift. And in the Caribbean, in those situations where trust is sufficiently low, the formation of alliances needed to build alternatives independent of the patrons and gatekeepers, or alliances needed to challenge them directly, can be lacking. In such cases, the better option remains continued dependence on the patrons.

Strickon and Greenfield have given us is an understanding of the process through which the quality of social interactions may change or remain frozen over time. This approach gives us an explanation which does all the things not well managed by the structural theories presented earlier. It takes any of the realities which can be described by those theories as givens or starting points, and explains how we can ask questions about the process of change. It shows us how we can understand the connection between the behaviour of the individual and the shape or structure of society. It relates the behaviour of populations to the constraints and opportunities in environment within which they function. It provides us with a method for tracking change as it occurs. In the Caribbean, it gives us a way of understanding why change may not be occurring. And perhaps most useful of all: it gives us an ability to build hypotheses about the circumstances under which change will occur and then to test them. For those seeking a better approach to promoting socio-economic development, this is of invaluable assistance.


We conclude that Structural-Functionalism is built on the assumption that:

Stasis = Mode of Production/Relations of Production

In other words, where the mode of production is constant (e.g. slave-based, colonial- and post-colonial based economies), there, the relations of production will also remain constant. Hence, stasis.

The economies of the Caribbean — the Periphery — have remained dependent upon those of developed countries — the Center — from the time of slavery to the present day. In these societies, the minority ruling class (slave and colonial masters, and the emergent parasitic petit bourgeoisie) retain control of the domestic economy at the expense of the majority who provide labour. This is reinforced through the use of coercive institutions, education and religious institutions. In consequence, the have-nots have a narrow information base to expand their choices, and a tendency to accept the appropriateness of the status quo. The economy remains underproductive and resources — at least for the have-nots — remain scarce. This is what we learn from structural theory.

In the face of scarcities, patron-client dependencies are established, and competition emerges among the have-nots. have-nots are active agents of stasis because they seek to minimize vulnerabilities and to maximize their opportunities. Alliances among clients are therefore difficult to sustain because the clients compete for favours from the patrons. The advantages of patrons are perpetuated and abused. Scarcity for clients results, as does the need for client dependency. In this manner, stasis is replicated by means of the action of patrons and clients alike. This is what we learn from process theory.

We now suggest the need to combine and integrate the two perspectives (structural and process) to understand stasis as a dynamic phenomenon in the Caribbean.


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