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From coherent Europe to creolized Europe

Social science gradually elided processes linked to non-Western European locations from its accounts of capitalist modernity - from the particular historical circumstances of the European colonial expansion in the Americas through the colonial and imperial conquest of the non-European world and up to the impact of enslaved plantation labor upon the development of Western societies (Wallerstein et al., Randeria, Patel). Social scientific theory and research grounded in the epistemological premises of the Western European context thus systematically produced a sanitized version of modern “Europe” from which not only colonial violence, genocide, and plunder were missing, but also the experiences of the “majority world” (Connell) - the millions of people that had been forcibly exploited or moved across continents for centuries to the benefit of Western European institutions like the Catholic Church, corporations such as the British or the Dutch East India Company, or all of the European states vying for territorial control overseas. Equally missing from this prevailing notion of Europe was the voluntary emigration of up to 50 million Europeans to the Americas between the 1840s and 1930s (Therborn: 40; Trouillot, Global Transformations 31). As Marx and Engels identified class struggle as the primary conflict of European, modern bourgeois society, and proletarization (Marx/Engels 1848), emigration to the European colonies in the Americas provided a poverty outlet of 12 percent of the continent’s population. Large-scale emigration and decreasing ethnic heterogeneity in Europe by the 1950s, thr ough nation-building, expulsions, and waves of ethnic cleansing, ensured that processes of collective organization and social stratification were theorized in terms of class interests and class conflict, rather than ethnic or racial allegiance (Boatcä “Inequalities Unbound”, Global Inequalities).

Unmarked Europe was thus increasingly produced as a coherent entity. Sociology and political science textbooks presented the emergence of sovereign nation-states in Europe following the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia as marking the gradual overcoming of multinational political organizations and multiethnic empires and the start of processes of ethnic homogenization in most of Europe (Therborn). In turn, transnational flows of people, goods, and capital appeared as a relatively new trend of the late twentieth century, and the growing influx of immigrants into Europe as an unprecedented effect of equally recent transnational processes on a once homogeneous European context (Berger and Weiß; Pries).

Instead, the Caribbean emerged out of the same intellectual division of labor as “an oddity in Western scholarship” (Trouillot 20), a permanent question mark on the dichotomies created by relegating the modern and the non-modem to different disciplines. The region was shaped by the genocide of the Caribbean’s indigenous peoples in the early sixteenth century, the demographic upheaval caused by the arrival of up to 6 million enslaved Africans during the European transatlantic trade, and the influx of indentured Asian laborers after the abolition of slavery. With a predominantly nonwhite and immigrant population, the Caribbean was neither “native” enough for anthropology, nor “Western” enough for sociology (Trouillot “The Caribbean Region” 20, Glick Schiller 22). As Trouillot signaled, slavery in the Caribbean ended around the same time that the social sciences emerged in Europe and the United States - yet, by then, the Caribbean had already become Europe’s Other. It stood for the backwardness, inefficiency, and unfreedom associated with slavery - the opposite of the modern, efficient, free industrial labor viewed as having originated in and characterizing Europe (Boatcá Inequalities Unbound).

Tellingly, it was slavery as an institution of global capitalist modernity and its manifold consequences that prompted scholars to question the stark contrast that pitted modern Europe against the non-modern Caribbean. From the 1980s onward, creolization as a relation of entanglement, the outcome of the mass movement of people and goods from Europe and Africa to the Americas and the new languages, cultures and peoples created in the plantation economies became the central reference in literary, historical, sociological, and anthropological analyses of the Caribbean (Glissant, Mintz, Hall).

Creolization has been increasingly explored in recent decades as a vital epis-temic resource for a sociology of Europe (Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Migration 162ff., Boatcá, Inequalities Unbound, Gutiérrez Rodríguez and Tate). Rather than pitting a culmrally, racially, or religiously coherent Europe against a multicultural, multiracial, and religiously syncretic Caribbean, this perspective rethinks Europe as a creolized space by virtue of its very colonial entanglements with regions such as the Caribbean, in the creolization of which it itself played an essential role. It thus substitutes the macrosociological comparison of distinct world regions with a relational methodology that foregrounds the structural links and the long history of power relations between regions. Creolizing Europe is however not only related to Europe’s colonial past, but also to its (post)colonial and (post)imperial present and the ensuing migratory and diasporic movements.

The project of creolization would be incomplete if it restricted itself to Europe as an object of study or point of reference of the social sciences. As the only legitimate location and subject of knowledge production about itself and about non-European regions, the unmarked category of Europe has generated theory cleansed of the historical context of colonialism, enslavement, and transcontinental migration. As a way of thinking thr ough and with invisibilized, peripheral formations, or thinking from coloniality, the creolization of theory reverses the direction of theory-building by proceeding “from the bottom up and from the inside out” (Lionnet/Shih 21). Creolizing theory thus becomes a tool for decolonizing social science by starting from the subject position of most sociology -unmarked Europe (Gutiérrez Rodríguez et al. Decolonizing European Sociology) and rethinking it from the geopolitical realities and the lived experiences of the Caribbean.

 
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