The book argues that the frontier, usually associated with the era of colonial conquest, has great, continuing and under explored relevance to the Caribbean region. Identifying the frontier as a moral, ideational and physical boundary between what is imagined as civilization and wilderness, the book seeks to extend frontier analysis by focusing on the Eastern Caribbean multi island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The continuing relevance of the concept of frontier, and allied notions of civilization and wilderness, are illuminated through an analysis of the ways in which SVG is perceived and experienced by both outsiders to the society and its insiders. Using literary sources, biographies and autobiography, the book shows how St. Vincent is imagined and made sense of as a modern frontier; a society in the balance between an imposed civilized order and an untameable wild that always encroaches, whether in the form of social dislocation, the urban presence of the ‘Wilderness people’ or illegal marijuana farming in the northern St. Vincent hills. The frontier as examined here has historically been and remains very much a global production. Simultaneously, it is argued that contemporary processes of globalization shape the development of tourism and finance sectors, as well as patterns of migration, they connect to shifting conceptions of the civilized and the wild, and have implications for the role of the state and politics in frontier societies.
The Theory for a Global Age series seeks to shift the perspective from which we view the world when we consider its global condition. Given that the majority of scholarly work on the global locates its centre within the ambit of Europe and North America, then, of necessity, the rest of the world appears simply as residue, as periphery. In contrast, this series seeks to highlight the work of authors who make central what is regarded otherwise as marginal and, from that re-centring, aims to rethink mainstream understandings of the global. This is the intention and outcome of Philip Nanton’s extraordinary book, Frontiers of the Caribbean.
Nanton uses the nuance and force specific to creative expression to present to us a social and sociological analysis of Caribbean societies, in particular St Vincent and the Grenadines. He moves effortlessly from rich, evocative descriptions of the natural cartography of the island to the complex social geographies exemplified by a variety of instances of fellowship, camaraderie and hierarchy that distinguish life on and between islands. From the rituals around the felling of a gommier tree, described in Mike Kirkwood’s foreword, to the social dynamics of the marketplace – ‘They display … their small-scale items for sale: heaps of fruit, ground provisions, braziers, sports trainers, telephone cards and boot-legged DVDs and CDs. A few self-styled preachers with clanging bell, Bible, tambourine or squeaking microphone stand at intersections and shout warnings of hell fire or extol the benefits of repentance’ – Nanton vividly depicts the universal rhythms of life in their specificity on a small island.
The idea of the frontier, which is a key motif of the book, is not simply used to delimit what is contained within it, but provides multiple opportunities for discussion of the productive openings created through its crossings and transgressions. The island itself is located as a frontier, and as the contested place of internal frontiers, specifically between civilisation and wilderness: both produced by and productive of the global forces that shaped the modern world and continue to do so. Nanton points to the way in which general discussions of civilisation, while implicitly counter-posed to wilderness, rarely address wilderness as a constitutive correlate to it. This imbalance is addressed in Frontiers of the Caribbean through careful attention to the history and contemporary presence of the wilderness within forms of Caribbean modernity. The wilderness is that which refuses domestication, that refuses completion, and that evades policing. It is a social landscape, as much as it is a natural one, and it is given form also through Nanton’s discussion of the ‘Wilderness People’, spiritual Baptists who, through their transgression of standard practices, created new forms of community across and beyond the frontiers of established religion.
Frontiers of the Caribbean draws on sources not usually regarded as central to the social science literature, but the eclecticism of method brings together new connections and interconnections that burst through existing lines of enquiry. The making and remaking of the Caribbean is a story of the creation and recreation of boundaries and of bonds – bonds of domination and of solidarity. It is a story that has to be represented and imagined – to capture the nature of the past and the possibilities for the future. Nanton’s book satisfies our need for both knowledge and imaginative connection.
Gurminder K. Bhambra
University of Warwick