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‘French-ish’: Liminal Identities in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana

  • Author(s): Schiffman, Bethany
  • Advisor(s): Thomas, Dominic R.
  • et al.

“'French-ish’: Liminal Identities in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana” examines the role of cross-media, hyper-contemporary folklore performances in the crystallization of national and regional identity. Due to their status as France’s only Caribbean overseas departments (DOMs), Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana are politically French. However, a fraught history and complex local reality create tension with French Republican ideals. As a result, questions of nationality are incredibly complex and this region occupies a liminal status I term “French-ish.” A dialogue of the theoretical works of Benedict Anderson, Homi K. Bhabha, Etienne Balibar, Pierre Nora, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Etienne Achille, Charles Forsdick, and Lydie Moudileno has proven essential in unpacking this complex positioning. The resulting framework illuminates not only how this liminal identity functions and is perpetuated, but also the key role that folklore performances play in its perpetuation.

The Introduction provides a broad discussion of nationhood, the history of folklore in the region, and my project. The first chapter then applies this framework to the region, illustrating how remembering and forgetting by different groups create competing national narratives that forge the liminal, French-ish positionality. The second chapter provides a detailed description of the modern folklore performances—spanning books, Spotify, YouTube videos, social media, online publications, festivals, interviews, and more—that comprise my corpus, highlighting the ways that these performances are evolving. The third chapter analyzes the impact of these shifts in medium, arguing that modern iterations are ultimately less intersubjective and therefore meaning relies more on the performer’s intent. The fourth chapter examines individual performances, finding that regional “insiders” use Creole folklore primarily as a site of remembering while metropolitan French “outsiders” use it as a site of forgetting. The final chapter argues that, while globalization and capitalism influence all modern performances, tales told by insiders for outsiders are especially commodified. Ultimately, the application of my framework shows folklore’s function as a site or commodity both within and outside nationhood to reinforce, reify, and/or subvert Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana’s French-ish-ness.

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