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The Caribbean and Global Capitalism

  • Author(s): Sprague, Jeb H.
  • Advisor(s): Robinson, William I
  • et al.

As a new epoch in the history of world capitalism, global capitalism is shaping every region of the planet. One of these regions is the Caribbean, among the first outside of Europe to be integrated into world capitalism through colonialism five centuries ago. In recent decades, as the Caribbean’s population has become entwined with global networks of production and finance in extremely unequal ways, scholars have begun to document shifting social patterns. While Caribbean societies throughout their history have exhibited many differences and continuities, the sweeping changes characteristic of globalization compel us to examine the region’s changing political economy.

With much of the Caribbean’s population based in the Greater Antilles island chain (containing Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico), this geographic area will be referred to most often in my research. As many studies have been done on contemporary Puerto Rico (as an associated part of the U.S.) and on socialist Cuba, the case studies of this dissertation will focus on Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. In looking at these three countries, case studies will examine how their national economies have fragmented and become penetrated by global chains of accumulation. I will look at this specifically through the context of major global industries (cruise ship tourism, mining, export processing, and the role of migration and reverse flow of remittances).

My introductory chapter reviews, synthesizes, and interprets existing sources and accounts on the development of capitalism in the Caribbean. Especially useful are a number of scholarly studies on the shifting modes of production in the Caribbean, from slave labor to wage labor and from European colonial mercantilism up to industrializing monopoly capitalism and into capitalist globalization albeit with the U.S. as the major hegemonic power in the region. Such studies are useful in helping to understand the history of social formation in the region.

I also have read reports and data gathered by key political and economic forums active in the Caribbean and specifically with regard to some of the major global industries. This information is central for gaining a detailed understanding of the shifting material and social relations taking place in the region. In addition to the archival research, this dissertation’s research is backed up by a multi-sited case study of the Caribbean region through ethnographic observations and interviews. This dissertation has aimed more precisely to synthesis my theoretical approach with my research findings. Rather than be chained to a rigid social experiment, I have moved back and forth between the questions I formulated and the data I collected. The methods I’ve outlined are not necessarily carried out in sequence, but rather according to the needs of the project. This flexibility has been necessary for a project of this scope.

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