Tag Archives: Caribbean

The Local vs Global in Caribbean Sugar

by Benjamin Sacks

Cut sugarcane waiting for transport and processing. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

Cut sugarcane waiting for transport and processing. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

The Caribbean, with over five hundred years of continual direct Old and New World involvement, remains a unique world region. At present, the Greater and Lesser Antilles comprise a motley collection of European and North American overseas possessions (including four French département d’outre-mer, two American unincorporated territories, and one French, six British, and six Dutch overseas territories), independent democracies, and one of the world’s last remaining Communist states. It is home to some of the world’s poorest nations by GDP per capita (Haiti) and some of its wealthiest (Cayman Islands). Few independent countries, however, enjoy full autonomy; most remain subject to strong European and American influence. Consequently, the Caribbean has often been subject to European Union economic, political, and social policies. Sugar has been at the centre of Europe-Caribbean relations since the late sixteenth century, and continues to play a dynamic role.

Most pre-existing scholarly studies of the lucrative EU-Caribbean sugar relationship have focused on high level negotiations, or generalised trends between islands and regions. Peter Jackson (University of Sheffield), Neil Ward (University of East Anglia), and Polly Russell’s (The British Library) 2009 Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers article sought to bridge the gap between thematic and local conceptions: they carefully examined moral questions and concerns in the international sugar industry, albeit from a Euro-centric perspective, interviewing British farmers and market trade representatives.

But what of the sugar growers themselves? The labourers who harvest sugarcane, process it, and prepare it in an uphill battle to somehow satiate the world’s ever-growing demands? In the most recent issue of Area, Pamela Richardson-Ngwenya (University of KwaZulu-Natal) sought to examine the local impact of EU-Caribbean sugar policy reforms, particularly in recent light of what she described as ‘the on-going entrenchment of neoliberal principles in the EU’s trade regime’. Richardson-Ngwenya followed Clarence Thompson, a Barbados sugar farmer, through his daily routines and his negotiations with other farmers and local agencies concerning prices, wages, and regulation. Thompson and his colleagues remain steadfast supporters of the Caribbean sugar industry, a trade that, according to the World Bank, the West Indies should wind down and ‘move on’ from in favour of considerably larger Brazilian production efforts. Thompson, in recorded video interviews, articulated the centrality of sugarcane beyond its immediate EU-centric impact: ‘Let me tell you something: if we ever stop planting sugar cane in Barbados, the whole island is finished. Because sugar cane is the only crop that keep the island into cultivation. It’s the best crop we have’. The lives and experiences of such farmers as Thompson remind us that industries are often more than the ‘bottom line’ – they represent ways of life, and can resound with deep historical and cultural meanings.

60-world2 2013, Country Comparison: GDP – Per Capita (PPP)The CIA World Factbook 2013, accessed 18 June 2013.

60-world2 2013, The EU’s relations with the CaribbeanEuropean Union External Action, 25 January 2013, accessed 18 June 2013.

books_icon Jackson, P, N Ward, and P Russell, 2009, Moral economies of food and geographies of responsibilityTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series, 34, 12-24.

books_icon Richardson-Ngwenya, P, 2013, Situated knowledge and the EU sugar reform: a Caribbean life historyArea45, 188-97.

On the history of sugar, see Sidney W Mintz’s extensive scholarship:

books_icon 1960, Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

books_icon 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Viking.

The Geography of Thatcherism: 1979-1983

By Benjamin Sacks


Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013). © Wikimedia Commons.

Irrespective of one’s opinion of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister, few would disagree that her policies and legacies deeply impacted the British Isles, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and much of the developed and developing world. Her domestic and overseas endeavours altered our geographical focus, highlighting new lands, peoples, and conceptions of the world even while others faded from view. But this presents us with new, underlying questions: how, where, and why?

To begin our investigation, one must go back in time, before Thatcher’s famed 1979 election, to 1973, a year that would symbolise heightened, competing tensions. That year, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark officially joined the European Community (later European Union, or EU). Britain’s ascession marked the end of a turbulent decade in colonial relations. Since the early 1960s, the country had pulled out of Kuwait, Aden, much of Africa, and the Caribbean. Increasingly, Britain’s economists, industries, and politicians looked to Europe and the United States for a solution. Watching Britain’s imperial retreat from his office in New Zealand, that year historian J G A Pocock called for a new approach to British history and international affairs, which he termed ‘New British History’. He sought to remind the British of their international responsibilities and legacies, their historically intimate and fluid relationships with the so-called ‘settler colonies’ – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the British West Indies, and South Africa (India is often included as well) (p. 431), and pondered on where Britain’s path lay next. For early observers, the answer was unpredictable at best.

What is most evident from this period was the Thatcher movement’s profound influence in determining where geographers would focus their attention and resources, as well as what areas slipped into relative negligence. It is therefore possible to construct a geopolitical ‘roadmap’ of 1980s British geographical scholarship, demonstrating that, in an effort to maintain their relevance and avail themselves to the broadest possible audience, geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, and political experts largely published in lockstep with upcoming trends and changing situations at home and abroad. In the aftermath of the government’s struggle with mining unions, scholars took advantage of national attention on the North to publish a series of related studies. These articles, importantly, were not narrowly limited to union organisation, nor to mining, but rather sought to engage with broader geographical and ethnographic themes. In 1980, for instance, Alec H Paul and Paul Simpson-Housley published ‘The Novelist’s Image of the North’, reminding audiences of the region’s immense natural beauty and cultural clout. I M Evans stuck to a closer, geopolitical analysis in his examination of how the then-international steel crisis had affected other EEC states, rather than simply Britain. Two years later, John North and Derek Spooner returned to Northern England, to re-examine the wider implications of the Coal Board’s investment programme in the heavily-affected (and marginalised) Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire regions.

The Falklands War directly catalysed a flurry of investigative discussions and scholarly explorations of the contested British territory. As a previous Geography Directions article discussed in detail, the war presented the RGS-IBG with a unique opportunity: to educate itself, the government, and the public about a series of islands that had already been in Britain’s continuous (but largely ignored) possession for over 150 years in 1982. Similarly, the United States’ invasion of Grenada – a Commonwealth Realm – in 1983 spurred a similar rush to, as Brian J Hudson suggested, ‘Put Grenada on the map’. In response to his September 1985 Area article, however, Rex Walford conducted a series of impromptu surveys with British and American audiences to determine whether recent popular and academic coverage of the invasion (and of the island more generally) had actually resulted in greater awareness of Grenada’s location, society, and affairs. The answer, Walford discovered, was certainly not encouraging. ‘At only one venue (a joint RGS/GA lecture at Hull) has a majority of the audience identified the island [of Grenada] correctly[!]’ (p. 57). John S Brierley, then an associate professor of geography at the University of Manitoba, preferred a less humorous, more serious approach, arguing that the social and economic development programmes created by the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada, led by Maurice Bishop, should be closely examined to determine what lessons could be learned. He uncovered that some social welfare initiatives could prove quite useful in other Caribbean states. Writing nearly a decade later, Robert Potter recalled Brierley’s assessment, and reminded contemporary development anthropologists, geographers, and planners of how ideas gained from Grenada, brought by the RGS-IBG in the war’s aftermath to public attention, could be incorporated into current grassroots/NGO/small government schemes.

books_icon Armitage, David, 1999, Greater Britain: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis?, The American Historical Review 104.2, 427-45.

books_icon Paul, Alec H and Paul Simpson-Housley, 1980, The Novelist’s Image of the North: Discussion, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 5.3, 174-84.

books_icon Evans, I M, 1980, Aspects of the Steel Crisis in Europe, with Particular Reference to Belgium and Luxembourg, The Geographical Journal 146.3, 396-407.

books_icon North, John and Derek Spooner, 1982, The Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Coalfield: The Focus of the Coal Board’s Investment Strategy, The Geographical Journal 148.1, 22-37.

books_icon Hudson, Brian J, 1985, Putting Grenada on the Map, Area 17.3, 233-35.

books_icon Walford, Rex, 1986, Finding Grenada on the Map, Area 18.1, 56-57.

books_icon Brierley, John S, A Review of Development Strategies and Programmes of the People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada, 1979-83, The Geographical Journal 151.1, 40-52.

books_icon Potter, Robert, 1995, Urbanisation and Development in the Caribbean, Geography 80.4, 334-41.


Sacks, Benjamin, 2012, (Re)Introducing the Falklands: The March 1983 ‘Geographical Journal’, Geography Directions, 18 February.

Content Alert: New Articles (11th May 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Migration, urban growth and commuting distance in Toronto’s commuter shed
Jeffrey J Axisa, K Bruce Newbold and Darren M Scott
Article first published online: 8 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01097.x

Original Articles

Mobile ‘green’ design knowledge: institutions, bricolage and the relational production of embedded sustainable building designs
James Faulconbridge
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00523.x

Creating and destroying diaspora strategies: New Zealand’s emigration policies re-examined
Alan Gamlen
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00522.x

The demographic impacts of the Irish famine: towards a greater geographical understanding
A Stewart Fotheringham, Mary H Kelly and Martin Charlton
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00517.x

Transnational religious networks: sexuality and the changing power geometries of the Anglican Communion
Gill Valentine, Robert M Vanderbeck, Joanna Sadgrove, Johan Andersson and Kevin Ward
Article first published online: 25 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00507.x

Geographies of transition and the separation of lower and higher attaining pupils in the move from primary to secondary school in London
Richard Harris
Article first published online: 23 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.519.x

Rethinking governance and value in commodity chains through global recycling networks
Mike Crang, Alex Hughes, Nicky Gregson, Lucy Norris and Farid Ahamed
Article first published online: 23 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00515.x

The ‘missing middle’: class and urban governance in Delhi’s unauthorised colonies
Charlotte Lemanski and Stéphanie Tawa Lama-Rewal
Article first published online: 20 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00514.x

Science, scientific instruments and questions of method in nineteenth-century British geography
Charles W J Withers
Article first published online: 20 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00513.x

Genome geographies: mapping national ancestry and diversity in human population genetics
Catherine Nash
Article first published online: 18 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00512.x

Militant tropicality: war, revolution and the reconfiguration of ‘the tropics’c.1940–c.1975
Daniel Clayton
Article first published online: 18 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00510.x

Beginners and equals: political subjectivity in Arendt and Rancière
Mustafa Dikeç
Article first published online: 13 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00508.x

Scaling up by law? Canadian labour law, the nation-state and the case of the British Columbia Health Employees Union
Tod D Rutherford
Article first published online: 13 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00506.x

Geography Compass Content Alert: Volume 6, Issue 1 (January 2012)

The latest issue of Geography Compass is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading

Oral Geographies

Miles Ogborn's work focuses on Barbados, Jamaica and the British West Indies.

By Benjamin Sacks

In the January 2011 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Miles Ogborn (Queen Mary) recounted the resilience of oral histories in the eighteenth-century British Caribbean. Historians have long relied on culturally varied mediums – including art, maps, prints, stories and music – to better understand the past. Geographers, Ogborn asserted, tend to work with a narrower body of material: maps and surveys, letters and formal accounts of land use and taxation. The importance of oral histories lie in their intrinsic, human element; oral narratives attached the individual to the land, its people and its future to a degree a map simply could not match. Highlighting the work of Sandra Gustafson (Notre Dame) and Carolyn Eastman (Texas-Austin), Ogborn argued that the imperial experience ‘created worlds in which oratory and speechifying [sic] both mirrored and created new social orders’. Gustafson added that colonial interactions made ‘verbal forms [of communication] into primary markers of cultural difference’. Excessive primary information can be difficult to wade through, but the importance of individual, non-academic accounts cannot be underestimated.

Oral histories take on almost countless forms. A conversation, recorded in the minutes of a town meeting, or a synopsis recorded in a letter. Behind gravestones one finds eulogies, epitaphs, verse, memories, music and stories from friends and families. Nor should the progression of tales through multiple familial generations be ignored; alterations in the story can be indicative of topographical or human geographic (i.e. migratory) changes on the landscape. Oral histories provide a colour to geography that has rarely, as of yet, been seen. With the inclusion of spoken narratives, more recent three-dimensional, digital maps also gain a ‘fourth-dimension’ – an interactive, human filter.

Miles Ogborn, ‘The Power of Speech: Orality, Oaths and Evidence in the British Atlantic World, 1650-1800‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 36 no. 1 (Jan., 2011): pp. 109-125.

Also see:

Richard C. Powell, ‘Becoming a Geographical Scientist: Oral Histories of Arctic Fieldwork‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 33 no. 4 (Oct., 2008): pp. 548-565.

Stephen Daniels, ‘Picturing Land and Life‘, Area 26 no. 2 (Jun., 1994): pp. 193-194.

Margaret Byron, ‘Using Audio: Visual Aids in Geography Research: Questions of Access and Responsibility‘, Area 25 no. 4 (Dec., 1993): pp. 379-385.