Accepted Paper:

Continuity and change in a Caribbean migrants' network  


Karen Fog Olwig (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

Caribbeans traditionally create ties to various people, including non-ethnics, to facilitate new opportunities.This challenges the idea that migrants’ maintaining of co-ethnic relations is continuity, whereas their development of extra-ethnic ties signifies integration into a new society and change.

Paper long abstract:

In migration research, continuity and change are often conceptualized in terms of degrees of adaptation, or assimilation, to the society of a migration destination. The rationale is that migrants, who move into ethnic communities of their own kind, attend this community's churches and marry people within the community, are seen to maintain their traditional native culture, and hence resist change, whereas those, who do not live in ethnic communities, who attend their own churches and intermarry with people in the host society, are seen to undergo the greatest change. Drawing on research within and outside the Caribbean, I shall here argue that this understanding of migration processes is based on the misconception that people, naturally, belong in communities of co-ethnics. Research has shown that an important aspect of Caribbean social relations is the building of expanding and inclusive networks of ties to different categories of people, which opens up for a variety of social, economic and cultural opportunities. If migrants develop relations with an array of people in a receiving society this can therefore be seen to constitute a continuation of, rather than a change in, Caribbean social practice. Such wide-ranging networks of relations tend not to be examined in migration research, because it usually focuses on immigrant, diasporic or transnational communities of Caribbean origin. This points to the need to examine notions of continuity and change in relation to the nature of social processes among particular migrants and the sociocultural contexts of life that they delineate. It further calls for a reconsideration of the meaning of diasporas and transnational communities.

Panel W017
Problems of continuity and change