In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Caribbean

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Colonialism, Capitalism, and Modernity
  • Geographical Imaginaries
  • Migration, Diaspora, Globalization, Transnationalism, Citizenship
  • Creolization
  • The Cultural and Environmental Impacts of Tourism
  • Race, Color, and Ethnicity
  • Genders and Sexualities
  • Expressive Culture
  • Religious Expressions

Anthropology Caribbean
Aisha Khan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 June 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0100


The Caribbean region, also at times referred to as the Atlantic World, consists of populations residing in the islands in the Caribbean Sea (the Greater and Lesser Antilles and the Netherlands Antilles), along the Atlantic coast of Central and South America (Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela), and in the South American countries of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana. From about the mid-20th century, identifying the Caribbean as a geographic, historical, and cultural region has been expanded to include its crucially important population diasporas, notably in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and, to a lesser extent, in parts of Central and South America. Discovered and populated originally by indigenous Amerindians from the Amazon’s Orinoco Delta, it was in 1492, when Christopher Columbus chanced upon what was for Europeans a New World, that the Caribbean began to be fashioned into the place with which we are familiar today. Subject to European colonialism’s economic agenda of monocrop production for a world market, notably sugar, beginning in the 16th century, the Caribbean has been populated by enslaved Africans (from West and Central Africa), free Europeans (primarily from western Europe), and indentured Asians (Indians, Chinese, Javanese). Free Africans, indentured Europeans, and free peoples from the Levant (today Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan) have also contributed to the region’s populations. All of these communities, and the new communities that have arisen over the centuries from their interactions together, created in the Caribbean a cultural mosaic of diverse peoples and lifeways, along with economic and political structures that reflect persistent colonial pasts as well as local forms of resistance to them. This simultaneous persistence and challenge is seen in all arenas of life, from the ways the region has been imagined (fantasized, represented) by both outsiders and locals, to its role as colonies and then as independent nation-states, to its strategies for development (among the most significant, out-migration and tourism), to the kinds of cultural and social transformations it has undergone, whether in terms of the region’s spectacular array of visual, musical, and folk arts, or numerous ways of categorizing and presenting racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, or religious identities.

General Overviews

The complexity and diversity of Caribbean histories, cultures, and societies means that understanding the specifics of a particular colony/country, people, or moment in time also requires knowing how these specifics create and fit into a broader picture. Mintz 2010 reflects on fifty years of research on the cultural histories of three islands. Knight and Martínez-Vergne 2005 presents new scholarship on globalization emphasizing the creolization of cultural production and performance. Reddock and Barrow 2001, Higman 2011, and Palmié and Scarano 2011 are works that provide general surveys of the region and are an invaluable resource in providing both broad context and local detail. Other works included here also emphasize key themes in Caribbean studies (e.g., Cullen and Fuentes 2012 on the arts, Dubois and Scott 2010 on the Afro-Atlantic, and Mintz and Price 1992 on cultural continuity and change).

  • Cullen, Deborah, and Elvis Fuentes, eds. 2012. Caribbean: Art at the crossroads of the world. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Comprehensive volume looking at modern (beginning with the 18th century) and contemporary art in the Caribbean, from individual islands to their diasporas.

  • Dubois, Laurent, and Julius S. Scott, eds. 2010. Origins of the Black Atlantic. New York: Routledge.

    Emphasizes the imaginaries and everyday lives of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and their contributions to the making of the region.

  • Higman, B. W. 2011. A concise history of the Caribbean. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A comparative, general history of the region from the earliest period of settlement to the present.

  • Knight, Franklin W., and Teresita Martínez-Vergne, eds. 2005. Contemporary Caribbean cultures and societies in a global context. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    Focuses on social and cultural change within the context of contemporary globalization, emphasizing economics, politics, and the commodification of popular culture.

  • Mintz, Sidney W. 2010. Three ancient colonies: Caribbean themes and variations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Mintz returns to his early researches in Jamaica, Haiti, and Puerto Rico and considers the changes these societies and peoples have experienced over a fifty-year period, including revisiting his arguments about globalization and creolization.

  • Mintz, Sidney W., and Richard Price. 1992. The birth of African-American culture: An anthropological perspective. Boston: Beacon.

    A classic, foundational treatise on African American cultures in the Americas—their sites of generation, processes change, and significance for understanding historical, social, and cultural connections between Africa and the Americas and, more broadly, the nature and meaning of cultural transformation within unequal relations of power.

  • Palmié, Stephan, and Francisco A. Scarano, eds. 2011. The Caribbean: A history of the region and its peoples. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226924649.001.0001

    From the pre-Columbian era to current events, this volume offers a comparative and detailed survey of the most important themes in Caribbean social and cultural history from an interdisciplinary perspective and diverse range of approaches

  • Reddock, Rhoda, and Christine Barrow, eds. 2001. Caribbean sociology. Kingston, Jamaica: Randle.

    A collection of in-print, out-of-print, and difficult-to-find works on the region providing an interdisciplinary resource that covers a range of topics and issues including social and cultural theory, economic development, identities, religion, modernization, and domestic violence.

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