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Before I begin let me thank everyone who is here; everyone who has made this event possible and all who have contributed to such stimulating discussions thus far... May the dialogue continue to develop between us ...AND may it also open-out into our neighbourhoods, workplaces, homes and relationships! Please also allow me to thank Peter Weller and Sven Grant for enabling me to join this active regional community of introspective and outspoken men; Thomas Holmes for inviting me to get involved with the Dominican chapter; as well as Gabrielle Henderson for her hard work in coordinating this event. ................................................... The short series of reflections and research questions I will offer today has the preliminary title of: 'Fathermen': Exploring everyday experiences, practices and ideas concerning Dominican men in family life. This enquiry is constitutes 4 year PhD project in Social Anthropology at the University St Andrews, Scotland. I am currently at the beginning of my second year – the fieldwork component – before returning and spending 2 years writing up my thesis. I have only just begun gathering information since arriving in Dominica just less than a month ago; and as such this paper is more a proposal for enquiry than the presentation of any solid data or conclusions. Therefore, I greatly value your comments and suggestions for this project, as well as ideas for future collaborative work on issues or themes of common interest..... A quick caveat: Despite having read widely on this topic, I have not been to the Antilles since I was an infant. Hence, I address YOU - an audience of self-reflexive Caribbean men – as the experiential experts in this field, inviting your fatherly or brotherly intellectual guidance to direct my attention toward any themes you think are of importance that I may have missed. ------------Let me begin: ......The central aim of this project is to offer a richly detailed account of what it means to be a man in a Dominican family.
Framed as a series of questions, I ask: What does fatherhood and male kinship mean in Dominica? and to Dominicans – both male and female? (may i note here: for scholars I believe that the answers to such simple yet fundamental questions cannot simply be assumed or taken for granted, they must be empirically investigated – especially given the dearth of writing on male kinship experiences in the lierature). Furthermore, I ask:......What does it mean to be a grandfather, uncle or elder brother? What do these roles entail? How do they differ from one another? Can a brother, uncle, grandfather become a ‘father’, i.e. can they assume the paternal function in their younger brother, niece/nephew or grandchild’s life?
How might the roles of fathers be changing with migratory experiences; with the emergence of burgeoning organisations like CariMAN; and with the development of associated programs such as ‘Share the Care’ by UN women in Trinidad? To borrow the question of Janet Brown, Patricia Anderson and Barry Chevannes of UWI: Is ‘a new Caribbean father’ emerging? –This is a question which I believe has grown in relevance in the 15years since they first posed it in their path breaking study of Caribbean fatherhood.
To approach an answer to these questions I will engage in a year of ethnographic study amongst a small number of families here in Dominica .... ...(To explain what I mean by ethnographic: .... Where ethno, from ethnos – refers to people or’ a people’; and -graphy from the greek graphia – means to write ... Ethnography is simply to write, with substantial qualitative detail an empirical account of the lives of people)... Therefore my ethnographic project will involve me:.... gathering data on life stories, undertaking interviews, partaking in and observing daily lives, and documenting all things related to male kinship in the wider Dominican social context .... The aim is to develop in-depth, qualitative accounts of fatherhood and male kin experiences. ...Thus I endeavour spend this year living alongside various families to gain an understanding of how fatherhood, uncle-hood, grandfather-hood, step-fatherhood etc. are variously (1) experienced, (2) enacted or practised and (3) given meaning in the wider Dominican society Let me elaborate on each of these.... .....I aim to gain a sense of: 1. how male kinship is .........experienced from men’s perspectives – i.e. their personal stories of their own fathers and kin, their reflections on their relationships, their feelings...etc (i shall do so through life history interviews – both structured and semi structured; and open ended narrative recordings). how male kinship is ..........enacted through various activities between men and children– e.g. storytelling, providing, disciplining, caring, guidance, just ‘being there’...etc... all of which give substantive practical meaning to relationships ( i will document this through observation, noting down conversations and interviews) how male kinship is........ constructed and given meaning in the wider society – through local newspaper, tv and radio representations, church discourses, and even through gossip or bef as I believe it’s known here in DM (e.g. regarding the latter: I was recently sat in a salon on my street getting my hair braided, and boy! I tell you I learnt more in those 2 hours of overheard women’s gossip than I had in one year in a library in Scotland). ...as such I ask ....How is Dominican fatherhood/male kinship constructed through these various communicative forms?
In a nutshell, I seek a multidimensional picture of fatherhood and male kinship in everyday life in Dominica. I do not restrict myself to one class, religious sect or ethnic group because I seek a cross section of different lives in this study, to trace commonalities and differences between diverse experiences. I will speak to muslims, rastas, chritisans; black Dominicans, Lebanese and mixed persons; as well as families of ‘high society’,
working class peoples, and those who ‘parro’ to use a local word for begging or hustling - depending on who you are talking to ...In short, I seek to investigate how understandings and experiences of kinship may differ or converge between diverse societal fractions. ..................... But Why Fatherhood/ male kinship? why Dominica? why now? This project begins in the diasporic intimacy of my own dispersed family (which like those of many Antilleans) is composed of relationships that span the Atlantic world, connecting..... Dominica: the homeland of my maternal grandparents.....and The UK: the country to which they humbly travelled in the 1950s in search of new opportunities.
Specifically, this project locates its inspiration in two family events: a birth and a death. The birth of my godson - son of a maternal cousin of Jamaican/Dominican descent in England; and the death of my maternal grandfather - who had retired to Colihaut village here in Dominica 1983. These two powerful moments – of becoming a god father and losing an ancestor - inspired me to meditate on the meaning of these relationships.... and eventually led me to this project.... As a student in social anthropology - the study of human social worlds - I began reading about Caribbean families in the social science literature. However, I became disenchanted : - I felt that much of what I was reading did not fit with my own experiences of Caribbean families in the Diaspora and Dominica, and it failed to tell the full story of men within those families. The literature presented men as peripheral to, or absent from female centred families. The preoccupation of European/North American scholars with male patriarchal headship and the nuclear family arrangements led many to miss-interpret much of the diversity and flexibility of family forms in the region - as somehow ‘deviant’, lesser or problematic. Mother centred households were pathologised and fathers often deemed ‘irresponsible’.... scholars often failed to see the complexities, ambivalences and even masculine vulnerabilities that may actually characterise such kinship situations Therefore .... This project seeks to dismantle, complicate and contextualise some of Eurocentric stereotypical representations of past studies... It seeks to document Caribbean family lives on their own terms. Why Dominica though? I chose Dominica not only because of my family connection (although following a genealogical route ‘back’ across the Atlantic was important for me)... I chose Dominica because I feel that conclusions about the Caribbean in the social sciences literature are all too often generalised for the whole region when studies are only conducted in Jamaica, Trinidad or Guyana alone for example; failing to recognise the contextual particularities of each island/state despite common social trends across the region.
Furthermore, Dominica’s historical and geographical location on the cusp of the English and Francophone Antilles enables the island to resist scholarly dissection of the Caribbean socio-historical area along linguistic lines.... and enables me to draw on both literatures for a more complete sociological portrait or the region. Finally, few have studied family life here, and as such a dearth of social science literature on this small yet unique island exists....Dominica’s distinctive development trajectory, its mountainous and rugged vegetation, its enduring Amerindian presence and the recent decimation of its banana industry make for a unique sociological setting to undertake this study.
Some emergent themes: As I alluded to before.... The idea of new a Caribbean father – of men moving into the realm of the domestic, the caring, the nurturant - is of great interest to me.... However one question that strikes me is: Is this image of the nurturant father all that new to the Antilles or is he merely becoming better recognized now with changing ideals that valorise male care and gender egalitarian relationships? In addition, as men are becoming more widely recognized for their hands-on contributions to domestic life.... is this resulting in the moving of their domestic activity ‘outside’ into public spaces (some might say challenging that binary altogether) – in other words, are male child carers becoming more publicly visible in Dominica and the Caribbean? ..... 2 examples: one mother recently commented to me how beautiful a sight it is during parent teachermeetings at her child’s school to see so many men present... similarly she commented on how many fathers you see at the school gates collecting and dropping off children... AND recently A Dominican father in his 30s I have been working with told me - ‘you see me on my bicycle, on foot, on bus...[etc.] anywhere I go [I go] with my daughter. If she no welcome there, I no go there’... therefore I believe the visibility of West Indian fatherhood in public is an interesting theme demanding further attention.... Another emerging theme is that of....The ageing father and grandfather – looking at shifting masculinities as a man gets older... how does a man’s grandparenthood differ from his fatherhood? Does he tell tales of the past to his grandchildren? does he assist with childcare? Is he home more? Does he take on communal parental role to children in his neighbourhood? What are his relationships like with the women in his life? My uncle here in Dominica, who is also a grandfather, regularly comments on how he prefers to stay in his house and yard... playing with his grandchildren whom he lives with, feeding his animals and enjoying the calmness of life away from the outside realm of the street and his workplace... and with his slowing down and peaceful life he has developed a mostly peaceful relationship of mutuality and respect with his wife. So I ask how increasing age informs a man’s masculine being and his relationships to young kin.
Finally, The role of the uncle or elder brother is also a developing theme. The maternal uncle role or elder brother role are both often highly significant – especially where they are the sole man in a household... exploring how brothers/uncles are involved in discipline, providing, caring, offering council, and protecting their young kin is of great interest to this study too... in one study in the region it was found that its common for an elder brother to be palled ‘Papa’ should a named father not always be around.... and in Merle Hodge’s novel For the Life of Laetitia, the young protagonist’s uncle offers a warm, protective, and guiding role as in direct contrast to her distant and domineering father whom she goes to live with in town on the agreement he will pay her school fees.
I could go on for some time....and there are many more interesting themes emerging each day.... I have missed quite a lot from this presentation so hopefully we can develop on some of the these omissions during the Q and A .... and .... during one-to-one conversations on various themes throughout the day. Thank you very much for listening and I anticipate your responses, comments, reflections #---------#
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