Development and Elite Domination

Kamugisha (2007) identifies the characteristics of middle-class nationalism in the postcolonial Anglophone Caribbean by critically evaluating the role of elite domination and its implications on contemporary Caribbean society. He describes a Caribbean elite who defines themselves by the standards of Euro-American modernity. Thus, it was determined that

conspicuous consumption and the valorisation of tastes that inevitably derive from the metropolis are the only thing that can separate Caribbean elites from the masses and further legitimise their domination over them (Kamugisha, 2007, p.34).

Additionally, Hintzen (1997) highlights the ascent of the middle-class in the Anglophone Caribbean; tracing its roots from anti-colonial nationalism. This ideology constituted a rejection of colonialism and its principles and was formulated by “an ascendant anti-colonial elite, and was justified on the grounds of an argument for self-determination, racial equality, and developmental transformation” (Hintzen, 1997). However, in gaining the authority to formulate the postcolonial society through emergent political power, the educated elite sought to impose its values and thereby gain dominance over the masses; a problem inherited from colonialism.

Hintzen (1997) also articulates the acquisition of dominance by the educated middle-class elite by virtue of their social and cultural capital which was intrinsic in legitimising its preferential access to economic capital in the name of nationalism. Access to Eurocentric socialisation, education, and training has also contributed to the possession of social capital by the middle-classes. While in the initial post-independence years the Caribbean elites have utilised their adoption of Western consumption patterns to legitimise dominance over the subaltern masses, there has been a similar idealisation of the metropolis by the masses in recent times, thus, attempting to reduce the social divide. As the dominant ideology shifted from nationalism to one of development, discourse has progressed to include industrialisation, technological advancements, and flagrant mass consumption habits (Hintzen, 1997).

Technology and the influence of mainstream media have influenced the valorisation of Euro-American concepts of modernity by the masses in the contemporary Caribbean. The aspiration of the masses then is to acquire that which has rendered them inferior. The development paradigm has engulfed all strata of the post-independence Caribbean as the values from the West have been idealised. Hintzen (1997) describes these Euro-American tastes and values as no longer being foreign and colonial, but modern and developed and a requirement for the achievement of equality in a globalised world. In the name of development, a wider section of society has gained access to Western privileges that have previously been available mainly to the elites.

Despite the drive towards the acquisition of Eurocentric modernity and capitalist development in the post-independence Caribbean which conceptualises equality, the imbedded social order still permeates Caribbean society. Yet it is secondary to the issue of escaping the coloniality that is still prevalent in contemporary society. Grosfoguel (2009, p.14) states that “the success of the modern/colonial world-system consists in making subjects that are socially located on the oppressed side of the colonial difference, think epistemically like the ones in the dominant positions.” Thus, despite the dominant position of the middle classes over the masses, and the masses’ desire to elevate in social stature, both groups remain colonised in the ‘modern/ colonial world-system.’ Relative power remains the only difference between the middle and lower classes. The capitalist and neo-colonial world- system have successfully maintained control over its colonies. Therefore, the attributes of development and modernity have not removed the stains of colonialism but have reaffirmed the coloniser-colonised relationship between the core and periphery.

The idea presented by Kamugisha (2007) that the Caribbean elites legitimise dominance over the masses based on the adoption of Euro-American consumption and tastes is not one that I would keep. In the wake of globalisation and the drive towards development, the metropole is more accessible to the masses. Thus, legitimacy based on access to Euro-American modernity has been diminished. As long as the social system in the Caribbean exhibits its stratified inheritance from plantation society and the quest for modernity highlights the need for the attainment of Euro-American concepts and values persists, the contemporary Anglophone Caribbean would remain subordinate to the West.

Grosfoguel, R. (2009). “A decolonial approach to political-economy: Transmodernity, border thinking and global coloniality.” Kult 6: 10-38.

Hintzen, P. (1997). “Reproducing domination identity and legitimacy constructs in the West Indies.” Social Identities, 3(1): 47-76.

Kamugisha, A. (2007). “The coloniality of citizenship in the contemporary Anglophone Caribbean.” Race and Class, 49(2): 20-40.

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