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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.
"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
"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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