Literary and Critical Theory Creolization/Créolité
Shirley Anne Tate
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0130


“Creole”/“criollo” emerged within European colonialism in the Caribbean, Latin America, the southeastern United States (and Alaska), island groups off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Africa, mainland regions on that continent (including Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique), in the former Portuguese/Dutch colonies in South Asia and French colonies in the Indian Ocean to refer to peoples, languages, and cultures. Criollo connoted European-descent indigenization, which was taken into its English/French translations in the second half of the seventeenth century to refer to “New World”–born Europeans and Africans. By the early twentieth century, criollo signified the elite descendants of white Spanish colonizers, and cultural mixing was inscribed in the power asymmetries of the criollo-controlled economies of Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean. Creolization has been related to processes of transformation produced by colonial rule, enslavement and racial capitalism, and processes/products of global cultural mixing. In the Caribbean, creolization was necessary to survive racial oppression, imperialism, and brutality within the enforced cultural contact between Indigenous, African, and European populations—Stuart Hall’s présence américaine, présence africaine, and présence européenne. The attempted genocide of the Indigenous population, the barbaric intimacies of European-owned plantation economies, African enslavement, marroonage, and subsistence farming, created transcultural contact zones. Here, as well as “racial mixing,” new cultural and social formations were linked to anti-enslavement and independence struggles in Anglophone Caribbean plantation societies, Haiti’s revolution, and French Antillean transformation by the African descent population. The decolonial contribution of Caribbean intellectuals conceptualizes creolization beyond métisage, the mechanical act of cultural mixing. Creolization is Glissant’s “unforeseeable” (l’inattendue) outcome of the racialized living apart together that goes beyond racial coding to break the established normative order of the governance of diversity. This challenges Western notions of identity and belonging that reproduce the White Self/Inferior Other in post/colonial contexts. Patrick Chamoiseau, Rafaël Confiant, and Jean Bernabé developed creolité (creoleness) in Éloge de la Créolité (In Praise of Creoleness), to think creoleness. Drawing on Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant, creolité locates the specificity of Caribbean people, who were not Europeans, Africans, or Asians, but Creoles. This diversity went beyond Negritude by creating a space for what Glissant calls a “poetics of relation” and an “analytics of transversality.” For Maryse Condé, creolité does not take into account other historical creoles, such as those to be found on the West African coast, but is specific to the French Caribbean.

General Overviews

There still continues to be emerging work on creolization that is interdisciplinary, as illustrated in its disciplinary homes in, for example, anthropology, history, sociology, linguistics, cultural studies, French studies, Caribbean studies, Latin American studies, and political theory. The selected examples below show creolization’s dynamic interdisciplinary nature, as do other entries in this bibliography. In the twenty-first century, like its twentieth century counterpart, creolization speaks transformation. It is this very inherent dynamic dimension that makes it a fruitful interdisciplinary analytic tool. Creolization as a heuristic facilitates engagement with theoretical reflection and construction across disciplines through the nature of “mixing” and the “rhizome,” which both continue to speak of transformation as a process of critique when applied to theoretical domains. While the citations below are a mixture of special issues and individual articles and books, they have been assembled to show the continuing transdisciplinary significance of creolization theoretically (Knörr 2012), as an instrument/tool/perspective/methodology for understanding the world we have created and are constantly (re)creating. They also show the relevance of creolization for assembling theory on/with/from different parts of the globe outside of the narrow focus of more “classical” studies on creolization as an agent of social transformation in (post)colonial plantation enslavement societies. What they do not do is limit creolization to negotiations of cultural complexity within particular nation-states. Rather, they show creolization as theory that is rhizomatic in the Glissantian sense of creating global theoretical applications and perspectives (Glissant 1997, cited under Textbooks) whatever their contexts of emergence (Stade and Dahl 2003). This theoretical newness lays claim to its Caribbean predecessors through reiterating its genealogy at the same time as it moves past it to think about the world beyond the colonial plantation (Erasmus 2011). Creolization is a generative theory of identification, the process of societal change and the transformation in the ways of seeing the world through simplistic monocultural perspectives and one’s place within it, irrespective of where that time and space might be (Halbmayer and Alès 2013). It is also beginning to be used as methodology, as in “creolized readings”/“creolized methods” that seek to be transdisciplinary and juxtapose hitherto disparate disciplines, methods, perspectives, as well as approaches, and place them in dialogue so as to produce new answers to existing questions (Gordon 2014). The disciplinary and methodological “impurity” of creolization as method enables the emergence of new takes on epistemological and ontological concerns.

  • Erasmus, Z. “Creolization, Colonial Citizenship(s) and Degeneracy: A Critique of Selected Histories of Sierra Leone and South Africa.” Current Sociology 59.5 (2011): 635–654.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011392111408678

    Looks at Freetown and the Cape in historical and contemporary perspective. It uses the ideas of three key thinkers—Glissant, Amselle, and Mamdani—to look at creolization and partial colonial citizenships mediated by discourses of “impurity.” Glissant’s creolization and relation arefound to be key to citizenship which opposes inequality whilst living with difference.

  • Gordon, J. Creolizing Political Theory: Reading Rousseau through Fanon. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823254811.001.0001

    Intervenes in questions of political theory as a discipline by using creolization in contrast with its traditional method of comparison. This creates a shift in political theory’s methodology, as creolization brings together previously disparate disciplinary and methodological resources, thus, breaking down discipline and methodological boundaries.

  • Halbmayer, Ernst, and Catherine Alès, eds. Special Issue: Indigenous Creolization, Amerindian Hybridity and the Invention of Authenticity. Tipití: Journal of the Society of the Anthropology of Lowland South America 1.11 (2013).

    Papers show the paradoxes of creolization, transformation, and change alongside the continuous (re)production of Indigenous practices and knowledge. Creolization is used here in the ethnography of Indigenous Amazonian peoples.

  • Knörr, J. “Creolization.” In The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization. Edited by George Ritzer. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

    Gives an etymological overview of creole and creolization and their relevance within (post)colonial societies.

  • Stade, R., and G. Dahl, eds. Special Issue: Globalization, Creolization, and Cultural Complexity. Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Affairs 3.3 (2003).

    On the work of Ulf Hannerz; looks at some of his keys ideas: delinking, cultural creativity, the relation between the nation and global affiliations, network and global flow, meta-cultural sensibility, and double creolization.

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