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Unpacking Caribbean regionality

In this inquiry the most general question should be what a region is. This problem that occupied anthropology, geography, and historical sociology, had either focused on sub-national micro-regions, or reified macro-regions as if they were conglomerates of juxtaposed nations defined by geo-political, economic, and/ or geo-cultural criteria. I propose the Caribbean should be analyzed as a worldregion historically created as part of the world-historical space called capitalist modernity. As a world-regional space, the Caribbean began to take shape with the same process that produced the onto-historical and epistemic invention of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The Antilles constitute the first colonial region of the Atlantic system and the first sites of colonization by European empires, of the institution of coerced labor subsumed to capitalism (encomienda and plantation slavery), and the making of early modern imperial/colonial and racial discourses. As a world-region, the Caribbean should be interpreted in the longue durée of the modem/colonial capitalist world-system. It’s on-going process of patterning as a world-historical space should be analyzed within this spatio-temporal matrix. There are multiple configurations of space and time in such a process and that’s why we can draw different scales and articulations of regionality. There are distinct types of regions, strategies of regionalization, and cognitive mappings of regional fields and borders. As fields of power and unequal exchange, empires can be defined as regional formations within the world-system. The Atlantic system can be conceptualized as a large historical formation, as a region of the modem/ colonial capitalist world-system. World-regions are geo-historical spaces constituted within the longue durée wherein the world-system is formed as a “concrete ambiguous universal”, a fragmented totality. Capitalist modernity is a complex and evolving historical totality where, as a world-region, the Caribbean is a microcosm of its “structural heterogeneity” and fundamental historicity, its plural worlds and multiple temporalities. In Dale Tomich’s analysis, “the Caribbean appears as a rich, multi-layered, multi-textured sediment of world history - an intricate pattern of diverse spaces, groups, and activities formed within distinct historical temporalities, ultimately unified through the plural spatial and temporal dimensions of the world economy” (79).

Trouillot praises Sydney Mintz’s analysis of the region’s “units and boundaries” as “an exemplar of family resemblance a la Wittgenstein” insofar as it “ties the Caribbean to the rest of the world” while it “does not superimpose on its internal units but views Caribbean territories along a multidimensional continuum informed by history. Colonial domination, African substrata, ecological limits, forms of labor extraction, cultural and ideological ambiance, and now U.S. domination intermix in this scheme” (Global Transformations, 7-8). Pursuing a similar logic, I extend the AdornianBenjaminian concept to argue that the Caribbean can be seen as a constellation, similarly to Glissant’s concept of archipelago. Constellational thinking signifies a tradition in Marxism (Adorno, Balibar, Benjamin, Bloch, Dussel, Fanon, C.L.R. James, Quijano) where the totality and its parts are theorized as fragmented, partial, historically contingent, and mediated. If the ultimate onto-historic and epistemic unit of analysis is the historical totality (i.e., the modem/colonial capitalist world-system), the form and articulation of its constitutive parts are partly determined by the ebb and flow of history and agency. The Caribbean is not only a world-regional historical space within the world-historical processes of capitalist modernity, but also a constellation/ archipelago of political, economic, and cultural projects.

Regionalization as a process is not only dependent on imperial power and capitalist development, but is also the product of everyday resistances, social movements, aesthetic practices, and transformative projects. The Caribbean could be

Caribbean borderlands and traveling theories 263 seen as a regional constellation of western domination and subaltern struggles, a crossroads of diasporas, and an imperial borderland. The Caribbean is constantly re-invented and composed in contending ways. Puerto Rican writer Edgardo Rodríguez Julia claims that Antillanisnio is a regional contour of Puerto Rican history, culture, and identity, in contrast to the Caribbean that he evaluates as an Anglophone imperial invention. CARICOM defines the Caribbean basin as a primarily Anglophone economic market, while the US imperial state understands it as its geo-political “backyard”. Both are against the grain of C.L.R. James’s regional genealogy, where Caribbean revolutions are of world-historical significance from the early 19th-century Haiti to late 20th-century Cuba, as argued in the epilogue to his Black Jacobins, titled, From Toussaint Louverture to Fidel Castro. A key analytical task in analyzing, mapping, and comparing Caribbean discourses is contrasting contending discourses on the definition, meanings, prospects and projects of the region.

Our biggest challenges in developing nuanced analyses of Caribbean regional-ity are unpacking categories (e.g., slavery, plantation, African), identifying historical processes of continuity and rupture while finding regional threads of identity and difference, and developing decolonial rationalities grounded on historical experience and vernacular cultures.

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