An Ethnography of Cosmopolitanism in Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean Cosmopolitans

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This ethnography of social life in Kingston, Jamaica, is also a study of the relationship between two major, often conflictive, forces in current cultural experience, community and cosmopolitanism. People from the Caribbean – subject to slavery, the plantation economy, and labor migration – have experienced one of the longest exposures to a global political and economic order of any social grouping. For centuries, Jamaicans have lived at a crossroads of transnational economic social and cultural dynamics. The Jamaican social milieu is characterized by massively heterogeneous and creative cultural activity, violent social fragmentation and individuation, as well as a celebration of the role of geographical mobility in the establishment of personality. A central proposition in this book is that Jamaicans in the capital, Kingston, are still living out the aesthetic and moral consequences and contradictions of the Enlightenment and modernity. The author draws a parallel between Jamaican understandings of the self, and the late philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The ethnographic material presented here, derived from two years fieldwork in Kingston, suggest that Jamaicans understand themselves as global citizens. This sense of self can be identified across multiple contexts – oral performance, music, kinship and friendship, economics and politics. In light of Jamaican cultural experience, the book argues for a reframing of ethnographic practice as an explicitly cosmopolitan cultural practice.


“. . . not only does Wardle, by a sensitive ethnography (he writes with a fine hand) capture the daily interactive, self-reinventing and self-proclaiming theater of Kingston life he also manages without heavy handedness to relate it to the Enlightenment Project. . . that is to say to the idealism and universalism of Kant’s ‘categorical imperatives’, necessary for a truly con-sensual and international human interaction. . . I emphasize Wardle’s deftness of hand, light and finely crafted, which is a deftness well suited to the ‘social microscopy’ (Simmel) he undertakes among Kingston folk. . . . fine-tuned interweaving of individual lives into an emergent post-modern cosmopolitan world.” – James Fernandez

“It is written with elegance, wit, compassion, and intellectual verve – and I predict that its influence sill be great. It is mature, forward looking, and precisely the sort of book that the most talented of anthropologists should be writing today. . . . The work has the hallmark of becoming a classic in that Wardle has successfully achieved an ethnography that overcomes with considerable aplomb many of the problems of the Modernist grand narratives of key categories of Society, Community and Culture through which anthropology developed and flourished – but which today are seen as decidedly inadequate. . . . unfolds his own perspicacious narrative of the interplay of chaos and community in present day Jamaica.” – Joanna Overing

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