Research Library

Lambert, Craig. 2014. “The Caribbean Zola.” Harvard Magazine, 11. Publisher's VersionAbstract

IN THE SPRING OF 2012, Brown University hosted an extraordinary academic conference. “Being Nobody?” honored the thirtieth anniversary of the publication ofSlavery and Social Death Orlando Patterson, Harvard’s Cowles professor of sociology. Giving a birthday party for a scholarly book is a rarity in itself. Even more unusual, the symposium’s 11 presenters were not sociologists. They were classicists and historians who gave papers on slavery in ancient Rome, the neo-Assyrian empire, the Ottoman Middle East, the early Han empire, West Africa in the nineteenth century, medieval Europe, and eighteenth-century Brazil, among other topics. “I’m not aware of another academic conference held by historians to celebrate the influence of a seminal work by a social scientist writing for a different discipline,” says John Bodel, professor of classics and history at Brown, one of the organizers.

But Patterson is no ordinary academician. “Orlando is one of a kind—the sheer scope and ambition of his work set him apart from 99 percent of social scientists,” says Loic Wacquant, JF ’94, professor of sociology at Berkeley. “In an era when social scientists specialize in ever-smaller objects, he is a Renaissance scholar who takes the time to tackle huge questions across multiple continents and multiple centuries. There was another scholar like this in the early twentieth century, named Max Weber. Orlando is in that category.”

PATTERSON IS a historical-comparative sociologist who has written extensively on race relations and, especially, slavery and freedom. Slavery and Social Deathis “a landmark study that has had very broad and deep impact,” says Goelet professor of medieval history Michael McCormick, who participated in the “Being Nobody?” conference (see “The New Histories,” page 52). Patterson’s Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, a kind of obverse to Slavery and Social Death, won the 1991 National Book Award for nonfiction. Like his mentors, Harvard sociologists David Riesman and Seymour Martin Lipset, “Orlando tries to speak to a broader audience,” says Diker-Tishman professor of sociology Christopher Winship. “In many ways, he ranks among Harvard sociology’s last big thinkers—David Riesman, Daniel Bell, Talcott Parsons.”

The study of culture—of values, established ideas, traditions, language, customs, learned behaviors, symbolic materials, including the arts, and other nonbiological inheritances—has been central to Patterson’s work. Sociologists often contrast culture with structure: the “hard” variables that include prevailing institutions, distribution of wealth, education, housing, jobs, and other “physical-world” factors. For decades, researchers have debated whether culture informs structure, or vice versa.

Many scholars oversimplify culture by equating it simply with values, Patterson says. This can lead to paradoxes like citing the same cultural complex as the cause of opposite results. “Confucianism was used in the past to explain backwardness in China, before it became successful. The Confucian ethic was supposedly inconsistent with capitalism,” he explains. “Then China becomes economically successful, and suddenly it is the Confucian ethic that explains its success. The same cultural values can move in either direction. So you need a dynamic approach that shows how culture interacts with structure.

“Culture is a very tricky concept,” he continues. “It’s like Typhoid Mary—you’ve got to be very careful with it! Most conservatives tend to use the concept in a simplistic way. Liberals are wary of it—there is guilt by association.” That association has roots in the 1966 book La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty by anthropologist Oscar Lewis, which gave an in-depth portrait of a former prostitute living with her sixth husband. Liberal critics attacked Lewis’s “culture of poverty” concept as one that “blamed the victims” for holding values that perpetuated their state: he suggested in La Vida and other work that the poor could pass down poverty-related beliefs for generations, and that such values might persist even after people had achieved better circumstances.

“No one talked about culture for a long time,” Patterson says. “Now it is back, but still wishy-washy as a causal explanation. It’s fine now to use culture like [anthropologist] Clifford Geertz does, as an interpretive, symbolic vehicle [in a classic essay on Balinese cockfighting, Geertz interpreted the cocks as symbols of important men in the village], but not as having a causal role in social structures.”

The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, edited and to a large degree written by Patterson (with Harvard graduate student Ethan Fosse as co-editor), to be published by Harvard University Press in January, breaks with that convention. “Orlando is first and foremost an iconoclast,” says Winship, and the new book, about impoverished young blacks in American cities, does challenge some received wisdom. It shows not only how much culture matters to these young people, but also their disproportionately large impact on mainstream culture. In October 2003, for example, a turning point in the history of American popular culture occurred when “all of the top 10 positions on Billboard’s pop chart were filled by black artists, nine of them in the inner-city-created rap genre,” Patterson writes in the new book. “It is hardly to be wondered that the typical Euro-American imagines the African-American population to be somewhere between 23 and 30 percent of the U.S. population, over twice its actual size.”

The Cultural Matrix (with chapters by Winship and by Robert Sampson, Ford professor of the social sciences) may also enlighten some readers by demonstrating black youths’ “deep commitment to some of the most fundamental values of the mainstream—its individualism, materialism, admiration for the military, and insistence on taking near complete responsibility for their own failures and successes,” Patterson writes. The young African Americans are surprisingly self-critical, he notes. For example, he writes that “92 percent of black youth aged 18 to 24 say ‘young black men not taking their education seriously enough,’ is a ‘big problem,’ while 88 percent declare likewise on ‘not being responsible fathers.’” Patterson adds, in an interview, “They are more American than Americans.”

Responsible fatherhood is a particularly sticky issue, one that Patterson has often addressed in his studies of African-American history and culture. Slavery in the American South, he says, left no legacy more damaging than the destruction of the black family—the relations between husband and wife, parent and child. Marriage among slaves was illegal, and slaveholders brutally broke slave families apart by selling off children or parents to other masters. “It is true that many slaves were involved in social units that looked like nuclear families, but these were largely reproductive associations based on fragile male-female relationships,” Patterson says. “In many cases the ‘husbands’ lived on other plantations and needed permission to visit their ‘wives,’ and parents had no custodial claims on their children, who at any time could be sold away from them. To call these units ‘families,’ as revisionist historians have done, is a historical and sociological travesty.”

In his 1965 The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (the “Moynihan Report”), Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had taught government at Harvard and was then assistant secretary of labor under President Lyndon Johnson, argued that the relative absence of nuclear families among black Americans, and the relatively large numbers of families headed by single mothers—both traceable to slavery and Jim Crow segregation—were a root cause of African-American poverty. Black leaders attacked the report, accusing it of stereotyping black Americans (particularly men), perpetuating cultural bias, and setting back the civil-rights movement. “Moynihan became the bête noire of sociology. He took a terrible beating from academics,” Patterson says. “It was so unfair. He was an architect of the War on Poverty—the most radical national agenda for black people in American history. The critics all admit that slavery was horrible, but balk at the idea that the destructive impact has consequences today. Yet you cannot neglect slavery’s effects on the black family as a critical component of African-American life.”

Patterson and Moynihan befriended each other as Harvard colleagues, and when the University awarded Moynihan, by then retired from the U.S. Senate, an honorary degree in 2002, Patterson served as his escort at Commencement. Five years later, the American Academy of Political and Social Science and Harvard’s sociology department and Du Bois Institute (now part of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research) co-sponsored a conference of sociologists and economists, “The Moynihan Report Revisited.” “The conclusion they had come around to,” Patterson says, “was that he was right.”

SLAVERY IS a crucial part of Patterson’s cultural heritage. He grew up in Jamaica, a country that endured almost two centuries of ruthless slavery under British rule. He wanted to understand how “the horrendous colonial past of slavery, and then a pretty oppressive post-emancipation era of 124 years, shape the present in terms of poverty and underdevelopment. In the Caribbean, that is a very radical position: it’s part of the neo-Marxian analysis of the plantation system. One of the great ironies of my life is that when I raise the same questions in the American context, because of the complexities of race here, people see it as conservative: ‘You’re blaming the victim! We don’t want to hear about the past—we want to hear about how present-day economic inequalities explain the plight of African Americans.’ But where I come from—both the British New Left and the Caribbean neo-Marxists—history is critical.”

History rolls though every page of Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death.“Slavery has existed all over the world,” he says, even if many Americans imagine it was unique to the antebellum South. “I asked if there were any common attributes to slavery that differentiate it from other forms of oppression, like serfdom,” he says. “What I came up with is that the fundamental feature of being a slave is that slaves are socially dead—both metaphorically and literally. They have no recognized legal existence in the society. They do not belong to the community, because they belong only to the master, and exist only through the master. I use the concept of natal alienation: they have no rights at birth. This doesn’t mean slaves don’t have communities of their own—they did have a slave life, a slave village. But in the eyes of non-slaves they do not belong, they are non-citizens. So after the United States abolished slavery, one of the first things they had to do was to amend the Constitution to make slaves citizens!

“The idea of social death became very powerful, very useful, especially in explaining what happens after slavery is formally ended,” he continues. “For example, Southern Americans, and Americans generally, found it so hard to accept black Americans after slavery was abolished. The culture of slavery still persisted, which is the idea that ‘you do not belong.’ They were nobodies; people were horrified at the idea that they could vote, like citizens. It even lingers to this day. What is the thing people who don’t like Obama say? They try to make out that he doesn’t have a birth certificate—that he doesn’t belong. Even a black president does not belong!”

AN UNEXPECTED OUTGROWTH of Patterson’s study of the socio-historical significance of slavery was his shift to the study of freedom. “I had gone in search of a man-killing wolf called slavery; to my dismay I kept finding the tracks of a lamb called freedom,” he writes in the preface to Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. “A lamb that stared back at me, on our first furtive encounters in the foothills of the Western past, with strange, uninnocent eyes. Was I to believe that slavery was a lamb in wolf’s clothing? Not with my past. And so I changed my quarry.” Patterson’s iconoclasm also informs this work. “The idea of freedom is seen as ‘inherent’—so there is nothing to explain,” he says. “[The idea is that] ‘Everybody wants to be free because it is part of the human condition.’ That’s nonsense. Freedom as a value, as a cherished part of one’s culture, as something to strive for and die for, is unusual in human history. You can’t just take it for granted. So the question turns into, how did freedom become important? My explanation is that freedom emerged as the antithesis to the social death of slavery.”

Under slavery, he explains, there were three groups of people: masters, slaves, and non-slaves. “All three come to discover this thing we call freedom through their relationships. For the master, freedom is being able to do what you please with another person: freedom as power. For the slave—well, what does a slave yearn for? To be emancipated, to get rid of the social death that is slavery. Masters encouragethis notion of freedom, too, as the hope of manumission is one of the most powerful ways to get a slave to work. The third group, the non-slaves or freemen, look at the slaves and say, ‘We are not them. We are born free.’ Suddenly, being born free becomes important, in a way it never could be for slaves. Freemen have a different status in society, one that does not depend on their socioeconomic class.

“If you go deep into Indo-European languages, the linguistic evidence is fascinating,” he continues. “The most ancient root of freedom is a word that means beloved orbelonging. The people who first celebrated freedom were non-slaves who recognized the virtue of being born free, and belonging to a community of free people—the beloved. These three forms of freedom lie at the roots of democracy, and the first place it emerged was from the slave culture of ancient Greece.”

BORN IN JAMAICA in 1940, Patterson is the son of Charles and Almina Patterson, a police detective and a seamstress. His parents separated for several years, but eventually reunited. Patterson spent much of his boyhood in the small rural town of May Pen, which, like Jamaica generally, had an almost entirely black population. One day when he was about eight or nine, a one-room library opened under a pavilion in the town park, and the boy was astonished to learn that you could borrow books there. “Borrow books?” he recalled asking the librarian, in a 2013 interview insmall axe, a Caribbean journal of criticism “So I found myself going to this place with the smell of brand-new books, and I could take any book I wanted. It was amazing! I used to go there, and read and read and read….That was atransformativeexperience. I just read. Instead of shooting birds or swimming in the Rio Minho river, I’d go to the library.”

He rose to the top of his classes. Patterson’s mother was a strong-willed, intelligent woman who emphasized education; she made her son her “project.” He won a scholarship to the University College of the West Indies in Kingston, then an overseas college of London University, hoping to study history, but was involuntarily funneled into the new economics program. In 1965, he earned his Ph.D. in sociology at the London School of Economics (LSE), and married Nerys Thomas, Ph.D. ’81, a Welsh scholar of Celtic literature. (The couple divorced many years ago and Thomas has since died. They had two daughters, Rhiannon and Barbara.) Patterson cut quite a figure on the London literary scene, publishing three novels, the first when he was 23, as well as essays in the Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, and New Left Review, serving on its editorial board. The LSE appointed him to its faculty.

The early 1960s gave the young sociologist a golden opportunity to witness cultural change close-up. When he arrived in Britain in 1962, ”It was still a gray, staid, uptight country,” he recalls. “It was pre-Beatles. You didn’t think of popular culture or fashion when you thought of Britain—they were just imperialists who played cricket. Then, overnight, there was a cultural revolution, and not just music—also theater, and fashion, with Mary Quant. Suddenly it exploded, right in front of our eyes. It showed how important culture is, and how it can change radically, and very quickly. When I hear sociologists talking about culture being slow, thick, and hard to change, I want to say, ‘What are you talking about? You should have lived in Britain in the Sixties!’ ”

Patterson’s first academic book, The Sociology of Slavery,(1967), gave an historical account and analysis of Jamaican slavery across three centuries and was very well received. But his career in fiction started just as strongly. Two novels set in Jamaica,The Children of Sisyphus andAn Absence of Ruins, appeared in England between 1964 and 1967. (Both have been recently reissued.) A third, Die the Long Day, set in Jamaican slave society, was published in 1972.

As its title implies, Sisyphus took inspiration, in part, from Camus: set amid the extreme poverty of the “Dungle,” an urban shantytown in Kingston, it stands as a fair argument for the hopelessness of the human condition. The novel contains one of the first portrayals of the Rastafari, the religious cult made world-famous by reggae superstar Bob Marley, and about which, Patterson says, there has been “a lot of romanticizing. I thought Rastafarianism was their attempt at making symbolic sense of their condition. They thought [Ethiopian emperor Haile] Selassie was God. In reality, Selassie was an authoritarian who was eventually deposed.” ThroughoutSisyphus, Patterson’s dialogue flawlessly renders the Jamaican patois, as in this street encounter with a middle-class woman, related by a Dungle laundress:

“Me see you a’ready,” she say, “is wha’ yu doin’ in dis part o’ Kingston?, so me ask her if is any o’ her business an’ same time she say, “Ah ’member whe’ ah see you now, you come from de Dungle, you is a Dungle pickney, ah can smell it ’pon you, wha’ yu ah do in good people place?”

The Daily Telegraph headline on Sisyphus called Patterson the “Caribbean Zola.” With talent in both sociology and fiction, he had to make a choice. The turning point came when he went to tea at the home of George Lamming, an award-winning Barbadian novelist who had published several books and lectured widely. Lamming owned no car. Patterson had to change trains three times to get to Lamming’s home in “the wilds” of North London. He found the address, and it was a neat cottage, “a pleasant house,” he thought. But Lamming, it turned out, resided in a bedsitter (a one-room studio) above the cottage. On leaving, Patterson thought, “Well, this is not the life for me.” He had his parents to look after, and didn’t feel he could gamble on the literary life. There was a secure career available in the academy.

PATTERSON WAS IN ENGLAND during the watershed moment in 1962 when Jamaica achieved full independence by leaving the Federation of the West Indies. A few years later, despite his successful life in London, he felt a pull to return home. In 1967 he resigned from the LSE to take up an appointment at the University of the West Indies, and built a house in Jamaica. Then, while guest-teaching at Roosevelt University in Chicago in the summer of 1969, he got an unexpected phone call from Harvard’s Talcott Parsons, a high-level theorist and one of the most prominent sociologists alive. Parsons offered Patterson a visiting professorship in African-American studies and sociology. He accepted, and soon gravitated toward the latter.

As a Jamaican who grew up as part of a racial majority, Patterson had not been socialized to feel like part of a minority group. Without a personal history of racial discrimination by a majority group, he hadn’t experienced the slights and affronts that assail Americans of color daily. “I never felt awkward here,” he says of the United States. “Not having been raised in a predominantly white society, you don’t see racism, even when it is all around you.” Furthermore, in Jamaica, the focus was on Oxford, Cambridge, and the LSE, not the Ivy League. “So being the second black professor at Harvard [after Martin Kilson, now Thomson professor of government emeritus] was no big deal to me, though it seemed to be for others,” he recalls. “I came from the British system where there was no affirmative action, no pressure to appoint blacks, so I took it all in stride.” He has remained at Harvard ever since, and now lives near the Square with his second wife, Anita (Goldman) Patterson ’83, Ph.D. ’92, a Boston University professor of English whom he married in 1995, and their 10-year-old daughter, Kaia.

But his Jamaican ties remain strong. Patterson met Michael Manley when the trade-union leader visited the University of the West Indies when Patterson was a prominent, politically active senior—one of the “young Turks” who were the first generation of Caribbean students to study social science. The two men hit it off.

When Manley won the Jamaican prime ministry in 1972, he appointed Patterson as his special adviser, and the scholar began living two lives. For four to five months annually until 1980, during summers and at Christmas, he changed his clothes to tropical fabrics and departed the academic calm of Widener for the political turbulence of Kingston, where he wrote reports, did a major study on the living conditions of the poor of Kingston, and fed Manley ideas for helping his new leftist government implement a democratic socialist revolution.

It was hardly easy. Manley (who served as prime minister until 1980, and again from 1989 to 1992) “drove Jimmy Carter crazy,” Patterson says, and at one point “the CIA came after us.” (After Manley was photographed embracing Fidel Castro on a 1975 visit to Havana, “there were strong suspicions that the CIA was trying to destabilize the Manley government,” Patterson explains.) The left wing of Manley’s party, which had little actual power but did include bona fide communist D.K. Duncan, who held a minor ministry in the government, was “scaring the hell out of the middle class,” which fled the island; at one point Jamaica was down to two dentists and not many more doctors. In such a transition, “you need managers more than ever,” Patterson says. “You can’t implement things with hotheads who couldn’t run a chicken coop.”

Instead of demolishing tenements to build high-rise public housing “for the 5 percent, while kicking the other 95 percent out to another slum,” Patterson advocated “urban upgrading,” bringing in services like water, electricity, daycare, health centers. “It will still look like a slum, but it is a more livable slum,” he says. “The minister of housing hated my plan.” Patterson did put into place a program that sold 12 essential items to the poor at highly subsidized prices. “It was one of the worthiest things I’ve ever done,” he says. “It meant that thousands went to bed each night, not starving.” Eventually, though, he decided, “I am willing to be a public intellectual, but not a politician or revolutionary. Scholarship is what I wanted to do.”

Alongside his scholarship, Patterson has also taught sociology, emphasizing culture, and has earned a national presence as a public intellectual in the United States. As a teacher, “I try to get my students to be open to different approaches, and not to latch onto the latest bandwagon,” he says. “David Riesman and Marty Lipset always encouraged me to stay a little on the ‘outside.’ ” Consequently, Patterson is very critical of “people who try to set ‘agendas’ as a way of making a name for themselves. They love to call their agenda a ‘new paradigm,’ and promote it as an agenda for the discipline. That usually leads to dogma, and I am hostile to dogma.”

He has skewered dogmas in numerous op-ed essays in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek, and has appeared on the PBS News Hourand Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. “I always just write what I think,” he says of his op-eds. “I don’t consider the political or social repercussions.” Though his credentials as a political progressive are unimpeachable, his freethinking essays often upend the settled pieties of academic culture.

In the aftermath of the dramatic 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, for example, Patterson’s New York Times op-ed "Race, Gender, and Liberal Fallacies” insisted that readers face “certain stark sociological realities,” however disconcerting. One such reality related to the allegation of sexual harassment Anita Hill made about Thomas’s behavior when she was his subordinate at work. Though Patterson found Thomas’s legal credentials inadequate for the Supreme Court, and identified himself as a feminist, he went on to assert: “Now to most American feminists, and to politicians manipulating the nation’s lingering Puritan ideals, an obscenity is always an obscenity, an absolute offense against God and the moral order; to everyone else, including all professional social linguists and qualitative sociologists, an obscene expression, whether in Chaucerian Britain or the American South, has to be understood in context.” For Hill to raise Thomas’s bawdy remarks 10 years later was “unfair and disingenuous,” he wrote, the latter because she “has lifted a verbal style that carries only minor sanction in one subcultural context and thrown it in the overheated cultural arena of mainstream, neo-Puritan America, where it incurs professional extinction.” This essay cost Patterson friendships. Yet, some years later, Anita Hill invited him to contribute to a book she was editing, and he happily did so. His philosophy is that “what we do as public sociologists must inform our discipline, too.”

THAT DISCIPLINE ITSELF can be revolutionary, as sociological analysis of the past can clarify the roots of present conditions. For example, Patterson’s first book, on Jamaican slavery, remains the benchmark work on the subject. “Jamaica was the largest and most productive of the British colonies. There was lots of money made from the sugar and coffee plantations,” he explains. “It was like an oil field, or a gold mine—in fact, sugar used to be called ‘brown gold.’ But the British in Jamaica made a harsh decision. Though some slave children did survive, there were high rates of infant mortality. So plantation owners focused on buying their Jamaican slaves from Africa as young adults, then literally worked them to death in eight years or so. Then they’d just buy another slave as a replacement. The demand for slaves in Jamaica far outran the supply from local births; astonishingly, the small island of Jamaica imported more slaves than the United States. Yet by the 1820s—even though the slave trade was abolished in Great Britain and the United States in 1807—the United States had far more slaves than Jamaica, because American masters encouraged reproduction and their slaves could be more cheaply provisioned.

“The money made in Jamaica did not stay there but went back to the owners in Britain,” he continues. “Those great English mansions were built on the backs of Jamaican slaves. The owners were not present on the plantations exercising any proprietary self-interest in their slaves. Instead, they left running the estate to overseers and slave drivers—people with no interest in preserving the slave stock. So they worked them as hard as possible. There were many slave revolts. Jamaica had the harshest system of slavery in world history.”

This sets the stage, he says, for understanding modern Jamaica, an economically underdeveloped and politically disorganized country relative to many of its Caribbean neighbors. Though many social scientists seem obsessed with change, “it is also important to explain continuity and persistence, which is one of the themes that has stayed with me,” Patterson notes. “The problem of persistence has finally emerged as an important one for economic historians. It takes the form of the role of institutions and institutional persistence.”

A lively debate now roils economic history regarding which is more important in determining prosperity: good policies or good institutions. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu (who has collaborated with Florence professor of government James Robinson; see “Why Nations Fail,” July-August 2012, page 9) argues that institutions—such as respect for private property and strong schools—are decisive. The “policy” advocates admit that although institutions are important, enlightened social and economic policies will give rise to good institutions. Both camps recognize, of course, that both policies and institutions are crucial; they disagree only over priority.

In Turnaround (2013), Jamaican economist Peter Blair Henry, dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business, argued the “policies” position by comparing Barbados and Jamaica: two black Caribbean societies that took their institutions from their British colonial rulers and became independent in the early 1960s. “Fast forward half a century, and Barbados has been very successful, while Jamaica is having problems,” Patterson says. “So, Henry says, it couldn’t be the institutions, which are similar—it must be the policies in Barbados that made the difference.”

Patterson is joining the debate with a long paper on the subject. “If you look at history, you find something else,” he says. “It is not just institutions, but playing the institutional game the right way. A lot of African countries had great institutions set up: Zimbabwe is theoretically a democracy, but does Robert Mugabe actually get elected democratically? And factories are fine, but they are useless if you don’t have the know-how to run a factory.

“In Barbados, the colonial elite was ruthlessly efficient and brutal, but at all levels of society, they used black citizens—who thereby acquired the institutional knowledge,” he continues. “There were black policemen, black artisans, black bureaucrats—they got hired even at the expense of poor whites. Right after slavery ended, Barbados abolished the militia, which had been composed of poor whites. They instead created a police force and gave those jobs to blacks, as the elite had decided that the local poor whites were a degenerate, incompetent group. When independence came in 1966, they were already way ahead of the game: they knew what they were doing. They knew how to run a democracy and a court system. They did a much better job educating black citizens. In 1946 Barbadian blacks already had a literacy rate of more than 90 percent; at independence it was close to 100 percent, and today UNESCO ranks the island as one of the five most literate countries in the world.

“The history in Jamaica was very different,” he continues. “Yes, Jamaica did have black civil servants and a colored middle class, but that was far more the case in Barbados. Schools were much more efficient in Barbados. Jamaica had an Afro-Jamaican culture where the peasants were involved: that’s where reggae came from, and it’s a big reason for the cultural vitality of Jamaica. There was not the same degree of acculturation to British ways. Today, Jamaica has a democracy, too, but a very shaky one: hundreds of people die at elections—there’s endemic violence, class conflict, and corruption, and it will have to solve those problems before it can move forward. No one dies during elections in Barbados; Freedom House considers it one of the most democratic countries.”

This is the power of cultural and historical analysis, as practiced by Harvard’s answer to Max Weber, or its Caribbean Zola. Yes, structure, policies, and institutions matter. And another thing that matters a great deal is culture, the legacy that history leaves.

Rothschild, Emma. 2014. “Examining Economic Webs.” Harvard Magazine. Publisher's VersionAbstract

“THERE WAS a longish period in the 1990s and the early part of this century when economic history was very much out of fashion, at least in history departments,” says Knowles professor of history Emma Rothschild. She has played a role in the recent revival of the field, originally established in the 1890s in Great Britain, the United States, and France. As director of the Joint Center for History and Economics, which is, as she puts it, “one center in two locations” (at Harvard and at Cambridge University), she has been shepherding new scholarly collaborations and directions.

A project on the history of energy (and climate change) seeks to widen perspectives on past economic, social, and environmental processes by studying energy use and transformation. The field has been pursued in Cambridge, England, for some 20 years, says Rothschild, and has recently seen “outstanding work,” by Harvard doctoral students looking at early responses to climate change in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “Climate change was then thought to be strongly associated with desertification,” she explains, “not with atmospheric change. They are very different physical processes.” Like an earlier project that elucidated the negative impacts of past economic crises on the health of millions of people—undertaken in the midst of the recession that began in 2008-2009—the study of the history of energy aims to be relevant to the concerns of the present.

The center is also undertaking a quantitative approach to historical social networks. The idea of using network analysis—including computer-generated visualizations of social networks—came from conversations with economists, says Rothschild, “in particular Ben Golub,” a postdoctoral fellow at the center who in 2015 will join the Harvard economics faculty. Rothschild first used the technique while working on a book about the Johnstones, a Scottish family with global reach. “The book was an attempt to follow the lives of all the brothers and sisters,” both those who traveled the world and those who stayed home. Several became slave owners, while others strongly opposed the practice. The project in time expanded to follow the lives of some of the Johnstone slaves as well—and it continues to grow. “It’s an interesting example of how history is becoming more open-ended,” Rothschild reflects. “I feel the project is never going to be finished, because people keep finding new things about this large, eighteenth-century family.” Ian Kumekawa ’12 (now a doctoral student in history at Harvard), who worked with Rothschild on the project, says that what really excited him about getting involved with this story of empire, slavery, and commerce was the use of network visualization “not just [as] an infographic” but as “a research tool.”

Rothschild is now studying 83 people who signed a document in eighteenth-century provincial France. “You can’t really hold the social connections among 83 people in your head,” she notes, “because it is beyond the capacity of the human social imagination. But by visualizing some of these relationships, you can see how information is likely to spread in a social network. It’s been an exciting collaboration in all sorts of ways among historians, economists, computer scientists, and others who work on visualization techniques,” but also, she emphasizes, “among very different kinds of historians.” In addition to Rothschild’s own study of poor artisans in eighteenth-century France, there are projects on ancient Rome, early-twentieth-century economists in Cambridge, England, and the spread of political information in seventeenth-century England. Despite her colleagues’ disparate interests, she says, “We’ve been finding quite a lot to talk about—it’s a different way of thinking.”

Beckert, Sven, and Jonathan Shaw. 2014. “The New Histories.” Harvard Magazine. Publisher's VersionAbstract

IN MAY 1968, the university’s students wanted to change the world. Left-thinking ideologies like Maoism and socialism were in their minds, and “Vietnam” was on their lips. They went on strike, skipping classes and exams. They rioted and clashed with police. One student was killed, 900 arrested.

If this sounds like a scene from Kent State, where student demonstrators were killed two years later, that is because the May 1968 unrest at the University of Dakar in Senegal was part of the same general mood around the world that moved students to protest, says Omar Gueye, professor of history at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. Gueye spent six months at Harvard during the 2013-14 academic year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH), a program premised on the belief that events like these—not unlike the seemingly contagious uprisings of the Arab Spring—can be fully understood only in a global context. As elsewhere during the student protests of the late 1960s, local factors played a role in Dakar: government cuts in scholarship funding precipitated the strike. But student anger tapped a deeper sense of injustice as well: although French colonial rule had ended in 1960, the university was still French, Gueye explains, and the French military was still stationed in Dakar. “Vietnam”—another former French colony—therefore had a specific resonance among Senegalese students, who felt a sense of brotherhood with the Vietnamese.

HISTORIANS increasingly recognize that trying to understand the past solely within the confines of national boundaries misses much of the story. Perhaps the integration of today’s world has fostered a renewed appreciation for global connections in the past. Historians now see that the same patterns—colonialism, or the rise of small elites controlling vast resources—emerge across cultures worldwide through time, and they are trying to explain why. “If there is one big meta-trend within history, it is this turn toward the global,” says Bell professor of history Sven Beckert, who co-directs WIGH. “History looks very different if you don’t take a particular nation-state as the starting point of all your investigations.”

The rise of a global perspective is one of several trends that are changing the way history is studied and understood.…

Temkin, Moshik. 2014. “Ferguson, Human Rights and America’s Interests Abroad.” The Nation. Publisher's VersionAbstract

For many Americans, the recent events in Ferguson raised disturbing questions. But not all Americans were equally disturbed, or disturbed by the same things. Surveys and polls conducted since Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, reveal a stark divide between whites and blacks. Whereas a clear majority of African-Americans consider the conduct of the police outrageous and typical, most white Americans were far more critical of the disorder that followed Brown’s death. Fox News and its ilk dwelled on “looters” rather than on the sources of African-American alienation. Americans seem to be stuck in an endless repetition of 1968, the year that many African-American communities erupted in anger after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., and many white Americans responded fearfully to that anger and protest by voting for Richard Nixon.

Mennillo, Giulia, and Suryapratim Roy. 2014. “Ratings and Regulation: A Case of an Irreversible Marriage?”.Abstract

What are the rationales for policymakers to rely on putatively disinterested actors such as credit rating agencies (CRAs) for financial regulatory input? This paper draws on perspectives from International Political Economy and Comparative Legal Studies to analyze the reasons behind the use and retention of external ratings as an indirect instrument of financial regulation. We find that allowing "market practice" to determine the relationship between ratings and regulation creates tautological justifications of the CRAs' authority, and raises compelling questions in terms of legitimacy. The purpose of this paper is to uncover the constitutive elements of the tacit acquiescence underlying the subordination to CRA ratings in regulatory matters. The examination of possible conceptualizations of legitimacy may help conduct further inquiries into the politics of technocracy.

Mylonas, Harris. 2014. “Scotland Rejects Independence as U.K. Vows to Give It More Power”. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Scotland voted to stay in the U.K. in a referendum on independence, stepping back from a breakup of the 307-year-old union while wringing promises of more financial power from Prime Minister David Cameron.

After a count through the night, 55.3 percent of Scottish voters supported the “no” campaign against 44.7 percent who backed independence. U.K. shares helped lead European equities to a 6 1/2-year high and the pound rose to the strongest level in two years against the euro after the Better Together campaign posted a wider margin of victory than opinion polls suggested. There was a record turnout of more than 90 percent in some of the 32 districts.

The Scottish Independence Vote: Breakdown of Results

“I accept the verdict” of the people, Alex Salmond, the leader of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh, said in a speech. While conceding defeat, he stressed the broad movement that resulted in 1.6 million votes for independence. “The unionist parties made vows and Scotland will expect them to be delivered in rapid course,” he said.

The referendum outcome follows two years of increasingly bitter arguments over the economic viability of independence, the currency to be used, custody of the health service and North Sea oil revenue, leaving a legacy of a divided Scotland while inspiring self-determination movements across Europe.

The FTSE 100 Index added 0.7 percent in London, and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose 0.6 percent. The pound gained as much as 0.9 percent versus the euro and traded 0.4 percent higher at 78.52 pence at 12:09 p.m. in London.

The benchmark 10-year U.K. government bond yield fell 1 basis point to 2.57 percent. The two-year gilt yield rose 3 basis points to 0.89 percent as investors bet the decision to reject independence clears the way for the Bank of England to raise interest rates as early as the spring.

Extra Powers

Cameron said he would stick with his promise to cede more policy-making powers for Scotland after a “no” vote. He also pledged a constitutional shakeup of the U.K. that would take into account how England and Wales are governed.

Scotland's Vote for Independence

Outside his Downing Street office in London, Cameron said the Scottish people had spoken and “we hear you.” “We will ensure those commitments are honored in full,” he said.

The closeness of the contest before the vote, which saw one poll this month put the “yes” camp ahead, unnerved financial markets and triggered a last-ditch attempt by Better Together to persuade voters that “no” would herald some of the changes Scots say they want.

The prime minister and opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband canceled parliamentary business and headed north a week before the vote to campaign in cities and towns across Scotland. They pledged more powers to the Scottish Parliament over taxation and welfare spending in an attempt to arrest momentum in the polls for Salmond after he outshone Better Together campaign leader Alistair Darling in a televised debate.

‘Positive Change’

Darling, a former Labour chancellor of the exchequer, used his victory speech to hail the vote for “positive change rather than needless separation.” Cameron called Darling this morning to congratulate him on his successful campaign.

“They need to get their skates on and deliver,” Matt Qvortrup, senior researcher at Cranfield University and author of “Referendums and Ethnic Conflict,” said of the main U.K. parties -- Cameron’s Conservatives, his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and Labour. “They should have done this earlier.”

As the results unfolded, early bellwethers suggested a let-off for Cameron and Miliband. In the end, only four local authorities -- Dundee, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city -- voted “yes.”

‘Blew It’

Emily Gallagher, an 18-year-old student and “yes” supporter, said she was “devastated” by the result.

“We had a great opportunity and we blew it,” she said over the din of pro-independence chants in central Glasgow. “We’ve had so many Tory governments we’ve never voted for and that’s just going to go on.”

That the referendum took place at all reflected the gulf between politics in Scotland, where Salmond’s SNP has run the devolved administration since 2007, and the rest of the U.K., where Cameron’s Conservatives have the support of just one Tory lawmaker from Scotland.

The situation was exacerbated by the weakening of Labour, traditionally a dominant force in Scotland. The party lost to Cameron in the 2010 election to the U.K. Parliament at Westminster before being trounced by the SNP in Scotland a year later. That win for the nationalists paved the way for the vote on establishing Europe’s newest sovereign state.

Edinburgh Agreement

Cameron and Salmond signed the Edinburgh Agreement that set out the terms of the referendum in October 2012 with both promising to uphold the result.

The campaigns became increasingly heated and culminated this week in both sides appealing to the emotional side of voters. In the event, it appeared that more of the undecided respondents in opinion polls opted for the status quo.

“This was an event that cannot be captured or understood just by looking at the percentages,” said Harris Mylonas, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University and author of “The Politics of Nation-Building.”

Ferguson, Niall. 2014. “Scots Must Vote Nae.” New York Times. Publisher's VersionAbstract

To most Americans, Scotland means golf, whisky and—if they go there—steady drizzle. Even to the millions of Americans whose surnames testify to their Scottish or Scotch-Irish ancestry, the idea that Scotland might be about to become an independent country is baffling.

African Religions: A Very Short Introduction
Olupona, Jacob K. 2014. African Religions: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

What are African religions? African Religions: A Very Short Introduction answers this question by examining primarily indigenous religious traditions on the African continent, as well as exploring Christianity and Islam. It focuses on the diversity of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, and worldviews, emphasizing the continent's regional diversity. Olupona examines a wide range of African religious traditions on their own terms and in their social, cultural, and political contexts. For example, the book moves beyond ethnographic descriptions and interpretations of core beliefs and practices to look at how African religion has engaged issues of socioeconomic development and power relations.

Olupona examines the myths and sacred stories about the origins of the universe that define ethnic groups and national identities throughout Africa. He also discusses spiritual agents in the African cosmos such as God, spirits, and ancestors. In addition to myths and deities, Olupona focuses on the people central to African religions, including medicine men and women, rainmakers, witches, magicians, and divine kings, and how they serve as authority figures and intermediaries between the social world and the cosmic realm.

African Religions: A Very Short Introduction discusses a wide variety of religious practices, including music and dance, calendrical rituals and festivals, celebrations for the gods' birthdays, and rituals accompanying stages of life such as birth, puberty, marriage, elderhood, and death. In addition to exploring indigenous religions, Olupona examines the ways Islam and Christianity as outside traditions encountered indigenous African religion. He shows how these incoming faith traditions altered the face and the future of indigenous African religions as well as how indigenous religions shaped two world religions in Africa and the diaspora.

Olupona draws on archaeological and historical sources, as well as ethnographic materials based on fieldwork. He shows that African religions are not static traditions, but have responded to changes within their local communities and to fluxes caused by outside influences, and spread with diaspora and migration.

Nye, Joseph S., Jr. 2014. “All in the Family: the Dulleses, the Bundys and the End of the Establishment.” Foreign Affairs. Publisher's Version
Khanna, Tarun, and Prithwiraj Choudhury. 2014. “Charting Dynamic Trajectories: Multinational Enterprises in India.” Business History Review, 88, 1-38.Abstract

In this article, we provide a synthesizing framework that we call the “ dynamic trajectories ” framework to study the evolution of multinational enterprises (MNEs) in host countries over time. We argue that a change in the policy environment in a host country presents an MNE with two sets of interrelated decisions. First, the MNE has to decide whether to enter, exit, or stay in the host country at the onset of each policy epoch; second, conditional on the fi rst choice, it has to decide on its local responsiveness strategy at the onset of each policy epoch. India, which experienced two policy shocks — shutting down to MNEs in 1970 and then opening up again in 1991 — offers an interesting laboratory to explore the “ dynamic trajec- tories ” perspective. We collect and analyze a unique dataset of all entry and exit events for Fortune 50 and FTSE 50 fi rms (as of 1991) in India in the period from 1858 to 2013 and, addition- ally, we document detailed case studies of four MNEs (that arguably represent outliers in our sample)

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Viterna, Jocelyn, Chares Demetriou, and Stefan Malthaner. 2014. “Radical or Righteous? Using Gender to Shape Public Perceptions of Political Violence.” Dynamics of Political Violence: A Process-Oriented Perspective on Radicalization and the Escalation of Political Conflict, edited by Lorenzo Bosi, 189-216. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 189-216. Download Chapter
Simmons, Beth A. 2014. “Bargaining over BITs, Arbitrating Awards: The Regime for Protection and Promotion of International Investment.” World Politics 66 (1): 12-46.Abstract

The regime for international investment is extraordinary in public international law and controversial in many regions of the world. This article explores two aspects of this set of rules: its decentralization and the unusual powers it gives to private actors to invoke dispute settlement. Decentralization has contributed to a competitive environment for ratification of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and has elevated the importance of dyadic bargaining power in the formation of the regime. Governments of developing countries are more likely to enter into BITs and tie their hands more tightly when they are in a weak bargaining position, which in turn is associated with economic downtowns of the domestic economy. Once committed, investors have sued governments with surprising regularity, arguably contributing disproportionately to legal awards that favor the private corporate actors who have the power to convene the dispute settlement system. One of the conclusions is that it is important not only to consider whether BITs attract capital - which hs been the focus of nearly all the empirical research on BIT effects - but also to investigate the governance consequences of the international investment regime generally.

Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran
Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 2014. Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran. Durham: Duke University Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Since the mid-1980s, the Islamic Republic of Iran has permitted, and partially subsidized, sex reassignment surgery. In Professing Selves, Afsaneh Najmabadi explores the meaning of transsexuality in contemporary Iran. Combining historical and ethnographic research, she describes how, in the postrevolutionary era, the domains of law, psychology and psychiatry, Islamic jurisprudence, and biomedicine became invested in distinguishing between the acceptable "true" transsexual and other categories of identification, notably the "true" homosexual, an unacceptable category of existence in Iran. Najmabadi argues that this collaboration among medical authorities, specialized clerics, and state officials—which made transsexuality a legally tolerated, if not exactly celebrated, category of being—grew out of Iran's particular experience of Islamicized modernity. Paradoxically, state regulation has produced new spaces for non-normative living in Iran, since determining who is genuinely "trans" depends largely on the stories that people choose to tell, on the selves that they profess.

Cohen, Dara Kay, and Ragnhild Nordås. 2014. “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: Introducing the SVAC Dataset, 1989-2009.” Journal of Peace Research 51 (3): 418-428. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Which armed groups have perpetrated sexual violence in recent conflicts? This article presents patterns from the new Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) dataset. The dataset, coded from the three most widely used sources in the quantitative human rights literature, covers 129 active conflicts, and the 625 armed actors involved in these conflicts, during the period 1989–2009. The unit of observation is the conflict-actor-year, allowing for detailed analysis of the patterns of perpetration of sexual violence for each conflict actor. The dataset captures six dimensions of sexual violence: prevalence, perpetrators, victims, forms, location, and timing. In addition to active conflict-years, the dataset also includes reports of sexual violence committed by conflict actors in the five years post-conflict. We use the data to trace variation in reported conflict-related sexual violence over time, space, and actor type, and outline the dataset's potential utility for scholars. Among the insights offered are that the prevalence of sexual violence varies dramatically by perpetrator group, suggesting that sexual violations are common – but not ubiquitous. In addition, we find that state militaries are more likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual violence than either rebel groups or militias. Finally, reports of sexual violence continue into the post-conflict period, sometimes at very high levels. The data may be helpful both to scholars and policymakers for better understanding the patterns of sexual violence, its causes, and its consequences.

Steiner, Gerald. 2014. “Problem Discovery as a Collaborative, Creative, and Method-Guided Search for the “Real Problems” as Raw Diamonds of Innovation”.Abstract

This paper poses that the creative search for frequently hidden “real” problems is critical if innovation aims at comprehensive system improvements and changes in thinking paradigms, rather than simple, incremental changes. These hidden real problems can perhaps best be symbolized by raw diamonds, which one strives to find in order to then grind them into sparkling diamonds, i.e. innovation. Currently, problem solving-related research focuses on the analysis and solution of predefined problems, with little emphasis on problem reframing and systemic discovery; moreover, inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations for problem finding and the application of convoluted methods receive little attention. To illustrate the search process for raw diamonds, i.e. the real problem, by way of example, a comprehensive “toolbox of convoluted methods” is applied as part of a comprehensive problem discovery process. The Planetary Model of Collaborative Creativity (PMCC) serves as the conceptual basis for this method-based search for the real problems. It shows that this toolbox requires 1) Collaborative effort; 2) Comprehensive competences (personal, professional domain, systemic, creativity, and sociocultural competences); and 3) A circular creative problem solving process, which is embedded within a sequential working process.

Bates, Robert H, and Steven Block. 2014. “The Political Origins of the Africa’s Economic Revival”.Abstract

Writing in the 1990’s, William Easterly and Ross Levine famously labeled Africa a “growth tragedy”.1 Less than twenty years later, Alwyn Young noted Africa’s “growth miracle”2, while Steven Radelet less effusively pointed to an Africa that was “emerging” and noted its rising rate of economic growth, improving levels of education and health care, and increasing levels of investment in basic infrastructure: roads, ports, and transport3. In this paper, we address Africa’s economic revival. In doing so, we also stress the political changes that have taken place on the continent. Once notorious for its tyrants – Jean-­‐Bedel Bokassa, Idi Amin, and Mobutu Sese Seko, to name but three – in the 1990s, Africa joined the last wave of democratization; self-­‐appointed heads of state were replaced by rulers chosen in competitive elections. In this paper, we assert that the two sets of changes – the one economic and the other political – go together, and that, indeed, changes in Africa’s political institutions lent significant impetus to its economic revival.

Bates, Robert H, and Steven Block. 2014. “Political Institutions and Productivity Growth in Africa’s “Renaissance””.Abstract

People speak of an “African renaissance.” We report and explore data that suggest that the continent’s return to positive growth can near entirely be explained by changes in total factor productivity growth. We find as well that changes in Africa’s political institutions played a major role in this transition and that the channel linking institutional change to changes in economic performance runs in significant part through changes in policy choices. We conclude with reasons to be cautious in assessments of the depth and durability of the changes in Africa’s economies.

Temkin, Moshik. 2014. “How to Kill the Death Penalty.” Los Angeles Times. Publisher's Version

Op-ed published on May 26, 2014.

30-Second Ancient Egypt
der Manuelian, Peter, ed. 2014. 30-Second Ancient Egypt. Ivy Press, 160. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We’ve all heard of pyramids, hieroglyphs and Cleopatra, but how much do you really know about ancient Egypt? Why was the Nile integral to the unification of Egypt? What is the mystery surrounding Queen Hetepheres’ tomb? What did the Amarna Letters reveal? What did the ancient Egyptians eat and drink?

30-Second Ancient Egypt presents a unique insight into one of the most brilliant and beguiling civilisations, where technological innovations and architectural wonders emerge among mysterious gods and burial rites. Each entry is summarised in just 30 seconds using nothing more than two pages, 300 words and a single picture. From royal dynasties and Tutankhamun’s tomb, to hieroglyphs and mummification, interspersed with biographies of Egypt’s most intriguing rulers, this is the quickest path to understanding the 50 key ideas and innovations that developed and defined one of the world’s great civilisations.

After the Revolution: Youth, Democracy, and the Politics of Disappointment in Serbia
Greenberg, Jessica. 2014. After the Revolution: Youth, Democracy, and the Politics of Disappointment in Serbia. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

What happens to student activism once mass protests have disappeared from view, and youth no longer embody the political frustrations and hopes of a nation? After the Revolution chronicles the lives of student activists as they confront the possibilities and disappointments of democracy in the shadow of the recent revolution in Serbia. Greenberg's narrative highlights the stories of young student activists as they seek to define their role and articulate a new form of legitimate political activity, post-socialism.

When student activists in Serbia helped topple dictator Slobodan Milosevic on October 5, 2000, they unexpectedly found that the post-revolutionary period brought even greater problems. How do you actually live and practice democracy in the wake of war and the shadow of a recent revolution? How do young Serbians attempt to translate the energy and excitement generated by wide scale mobilization into the slow work of building democratic institutions? Greenberg navigates through the ranks of student organizations as they transition their activism from the streets back into the halls of the university. In exploring the everyday practices of student activists - their triumphs and frustrations - After the Revolution argues that disappointment is not a failure of democracy but a fundamental feature of how people live and practice it. This fascinating book develops a critical vocabulary for the social life of disappointment with the aim of helping citizens, scholars, and policymakers worldwide escape the trap of framing new democracies as doomed to failure.