Centring The Periphery Chaos, Order and the Ethnohistory of Dominica
Patrick Baker, associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, has authored a fine history of Dominica using chaos theory and a world systems approach as the vehicles for his account. The attractive volume consists of a preface and introductory theoretical chapter followed by nine chapters carrying events from pre-European Amerindian times to 1972-73, when he conducted dissertation fieldwork, and more briefly to 1984, the time of his last visit. Chapter notes (pp. 191-215), a solid bibliography (pp. 217-40), and a useful index (241-51) are important contributions to the volume. In addition the text is preceded by eleven photographs or illustrations and supplemented by five maps and
This book and Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Peasants and Capital (1988) are the only two full-length scholarly accounts of Dominica. Baker utilizes the "metaphor of centre and periphery as an attractor creating and re-creating order and chaos ... herein to portray the evolution of Dominican society" (p. 15). His goal is to "present the history of Dominica in a way that emphasizes processes of energy- and information-flow management, the creation of order, the
making of sense in a context that is itself a periphery, the creation of a 'world' in an environment that is disorganized because of its relationship to some distant centre" (pp. 1516). By "centring" he means "individual and collective efforts to accede to and control energy and information in the environment" (pp. 12-13). The terms "centring," "peripheralizing," and "entropy" are introduced at every opportunity. When he gets down to the history itself and
moves beyond the jargon of the theoretical frame, Baker is engaging and eloquent.
In the chapter on Dominica's indigenous peoples, Baker provides a standard overview of cultures and events. He might have enriched the survey by incorporating or referring to the recent scholarship of Irving Rouse (1992) and Philip Boucher (1992) or the critical interpretations of Peter Hulme (1986). Although Baker promises an account of the Amerindian encounter with Europeans from an Amerindian perspective (pp. xvii, 17), it is difficult to
Dominica's colonial history to (roughly) World War II receives the bulk of the book's attention and this is the volume's most valuable contribution. Descriptions of British-French struggles for the island, slavery and emancipation, the formation of the peasantry, the rise of the mulatto
elite, and the growth of the banana industry after World War II are lucid and informative. Yet a sense of island contributions to the world wars is missing.