Free Trade and Freedom

Neoliberalism, Place, and Nation in the Caribbean
Karla Slocum
Considers the relationship between market liberalization, social movements, and everyday forms and narratives of work


In Free Trade and Freedom, Karla Slocum reminds us that, despite current efforts at global integration, local and nationally-defined places continue to hold significance. The case she examines involves eastern Caribbean banana farmers who, from the late 1980s were producing bananas for export under increasing market liberalization policies and restrictions in Europe. In a multi-level analysis, Slocum examines changes in international trade policy, Caribbean governments' laws and practices regarding farmers' production for foreign markets, and farmers' subtle and overt disagreements with global and national policies surrounding their work. Focusing especially on St. Lucian farmers' work practices, discourses, and a social movement, she illustrates in ethnographic detail how banana growers here insisted on organizing and defining their work in ways that promoted autonomy for farmers and that affirmed the histories and cultures of economy and society in St. Lucian farming regions and St. Lucia. Ultimately, this book demonstrates that alternatives to neoliberalism, as revealed by St. Lucian farmers, are being offered through the diverse and often unconventional ways that people invest themselves in national and local economies and politics.

Karla Slocum is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Praise / Awards

  • "Free Trade and Freedom is by far the best work on Caribbean political economy to have appeared in the last ten years. Its careful attention to the impact of global processes on the St. Lucian banana industry and its fine grained, richly evocative ethnography place it in the company of the very best work in Caribbean studies and anthropology. In documenting the end of preferential trade regimes for West Indian agricultural produce in Europe, Karla Slocum illuminates how St. Lucians think through, converse with, and restructure the neoliberal languages of personal responsibility, boot-strapping, and comparative advantage to create a new vernacular grammar that is at once uniquely Caribbean and also quite telling for our understanding of the exportation of seemingly dominant and uniform ideas about economy and society to developing countries. Structural adjustment – the conditions put on developing states around the world in return for loan guarantees – has had profound effects. Those effects, Slocum shows, are not limited to state coffers (it drains them) and new development strategies (it fosters them, often in unexpected ways). They also reconfigure people's everyday understanding of their place in the world, their "local" situation in relation to external events, and their very patterns of speech and behavior as they go about making a living."
    —Bill Maurer, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California Irvine

  • "This is the first major ethnography on the local and global contexts of contemporary economic conditions in the Eastern Caribbean in nearly two decades, since Trouillot's Peasants and Capital. Karla Slocum's approach is enhanced by her insightful analysis of the grassroots politics through which small banana farmers negotiate national and global constraints. They insist on holding government accountable for defending their freedom and brokering the relationship between the local and global. I look forward to assigning this book in courses on the Caribbean, the African Diaspora, political economy, and globalization."
    —Faye V. Harrison, Departments of Anthropology and African American Studies, University of Florida

  • "A fascinating study of the survival of place-based identities despite the lost of the Windward Island banana market. Essential reading for those interested in the local impact of WTO rulings"
    —Janet Momsen, Department of Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis

  • "Those people engaged in the study of globalization phenomena—promotors and pundits, detractors and doomsayers alike—would do well to read this book. Slocum shows through an analysis of a Caribbean state and national political arena, and with an ethnography of banana producers for the world market, that neoliberal policies designed to secure the flow of goods and services across borders are always inflected by and constituted in the cultural values, moral models, and strategic projects at the community level and that, indeed, these are mobilized in the debates with those policies, so that we take from this book that 'the local' and 'the global' appear as dialectical moments in 'the long conversation.'"
    —Kevin A. Yelvington, Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, and author of Producing Power: Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in a Caribbean Workplace

  • "Slocum's thoughtful study of the mobilization of banana growers in St. Lucia in the 1990s shows how globalization intersects with national and local spheres. Their movement, which integrated class and cultural factors, was based on local values and practices rooted in their history. "Freedom," for them, does not mean "free trade," but freedom to work and live in ways they choose. Slocum's careful anthropological analysis deserves wide circulation because it challenges some widely held assumptions about globalization."
    —O. Nigel Bolland, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology and Caribbean Studies, Emeritus, Colgate University

  • "Free Trade and Freedom throws down the gauntlet to contemporary theories of globalization. By exploring how St. Lucian banana farmers confronted deleterious shifts in international trade policies, she reveals the degree to which local and global processes are mutually constitutive. Challenging the idea that globalization ought to be understood as a homogenizing process in which flows of capital and culture overwhelm local communities, she writes brilliantly about social movements that, while pitted against global forces are ultimately shaped by local conditions, traditions, sensibilities, cultures, and ideologies. Free Trade and Freedom will establish Karla Slocum as one of our most lucid and insightful scholars of globalization."
    —Robin D. G. Kelley, William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies, and author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression, ace Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class, Speaking in Tongues: Jazz and Modern Africa, and A World to Gain: A History of African Americans

  • "In Free Trade and Freedom Slocum raises important questions. These are about the ways in which global forces affect a particular place, the ways in which they are shaped by that place, how they appear to people there and how those people respond to them. The tale of much of the Caribbean is not an encouraging one, and this book helps us to understand another part of it."
    Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

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Copyright © 2006, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6.0 x 9.0.
  • 272pp.
  • 4 tables, 9 B&W photographs, 3 maps and 1 figure.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06935-4

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  • $30.95 U.S.