Creolization and Diaspora

Creolization and Diaspora: Historical, Ethnographic and Theoretical Approaches

Conference: University College London, 27-28 June, 2002
Sponsored by the ESRC Transnational Communities Programme, and the Department of Anthropology, University College London

The concept of creolization first came into prominence after the European discovery of the Americas to describe the process by which Old World life forms became indigenous in the New World. Today `creolization’ appears in writings on globalization and postmodernity as a synonym of ‘hybridity’ and ‘syncretism’ to portray the mixtures occurring amongst societies in an age of migration and telecommunications. The historical record reminds us that creolization did not refer centrally to mixture, but just to the adaptive effects of living in a new environment. One of the aims of this conference will be to explore the genealogy of creolization for similar insights that may help to reframe our understanding of transnational communities, past and present.

This is an interdisciplinary undertaking that will bring together scholars from the fields of history (including historians of science/medicine), linguistics, anthropology, and literary/cultural studies to discuss the meanings of creole and creolization. At present there exists no published interdisciplinary overview of creolization, and the collective volume that will arise from this conference should become a standard reference point for those wishing to understand the complex meanings of creolization. Participants are particularly encouraged to consider the dyadic relationship between homelands and diasporas. Is society in the homeland a yardstick for measuring the divergent creole? Does the fact of ongoing creolization (abroad) threaten the homeland? At what point do creoles renounce the homeland, claim independence, or become so utterly different as to be unrelated to it? Is deracination accompanied by anxiety about loss of authenticity or cultural competence? Can creoles return ‘home’? Can people de-creolize? The conference aims to further our understanding of the process of creolization as it has occurred in the past and as it is now occurring throughout the world today.

Topics to be addressed at the conference will include:
· The genesis of the creole — conquest and colonization of the Americas
· Creolization and physical change – Lamarckism, disease, resistance, adaptation
· The logic of differing national meanings of ‘Creole’ (criollo, crioulo)
· The rise of creole linguistics – critical historiography
· Ethnographic accounts of present-day, self-denominated creole communities (e.g. Mauritius, Trinidad) – contemporary politics of creole identity
· Homelands vs. creolized diasporas — deracination, anxiety and authenticity
· Creolization in contemporary theory — mixture, hybridity, post-modernity

Further details: Dr. Charles Stewart, Department of Anthropology, University College London.


Roshini Kempadoo: Virtual Exiles

Roshini Kempadoo’s digital images and Internet site ‘Virtual Exiles,’ explores the experiences of individuals who have left their country of origin and who are now at ‘home’ in another. The reason and experience of having left a homeland always varies, but what doesn’t is the relation to the host country – those having migrated are nearly always considered to be an ‘outsiders’ or ‘foreigners’. The work was created by Kempadoo while investigating her own status as refugee/exile/expatriate/emigre in relation to her own country of birth England and her country of origin and upbringing, Guyana.

The interactive website was an ongoing curated internet show where individuals and groups are encouraged to contribute their own artwork. Whether it is a sound, video or a multimedia piece or a series of images or text, the person is invited to contribute their own experience of being ‘settled’ and ‘rooted’ within one culture and yet having a deep sense of belonging with another. Such contributions alongside Kempadoo’s own work are then contextualised and presented as four separate portfolios, each of which focuses on particular aspects of the ‘exiled’ experience.

Looking at Kempadoo’s work gives me a good insight into how themes surrounding belonging, rootedness and identity can be represented using new media technology. I particularly like the participatory aspect, and ideas of space and place. I think notions of space are particularly important when speaking about globalisation and virtual space.

Kempadoo’s work also makes me think about the end presentation of the work, whether it should be presented as an art piece? The project could take on a research form in this respect, aggregating different sources and displayed to an audience as an exhibition.

The above article contains information on Roshini Kempadoo and also the ‘Virtual Exiles’ project. I have selected a few extracts from the website that seem useful for my research at the moment:

‘Her work is very significant because it highlights the cultural mix of the Caribbean often lost in translation to the UK. Her work is trying to restore the complexities of Caribbean history through sometimes an autobiographical investigation. What is very provocative about her work is that it offers us a complex set of relationships that we as audience not only enjoy unpicking because it is full of diffuse humour but also because it recognises complex relationships between the present and the colonial period of British expansion’.

Sunil Gupta, OVA London 2004

I really want to explore these complexities in my work in relation to racial identity. I should note the complexities in translating these experiences, and question which method will best allow this discussion to be understood. Regarding this then, the audience play a crucial part in the work. I also like the autobiographical element, which is something I want to do in exploring my own identity. Perhaps I could do this in relation to other people.

Conceived as an ever-changing work-in-progress ‘Virtual Exiles’ begins with the narratives of people whose origins are in Guyana.

The aspect of the work forever changing is quite crucial, and links into my ideas of racial identity being changeable and all the more complicated due to this.

Matt Locke writes, ‘Roshini Kampadoo’s ‘Virtual Exiles’ is an ambitious attempt to create a forum for a number of issues that have been central to her work – identity as refracted through labels such as refugee, exile, expatriate and emigre; photography as taxonomic tool or emotional record; and the infrastructures of commerce, colonisation and globalization that replicate themselves in the technologies used to construct her work.

I definitely think in some ways, I am trying to create a forum around my work, in that my aims are for such issues to be discussed, challenged and experimented.

An accompanying website ( was presented by Kempadoo as ‘a collective way of telling stories, of digitally contributing our own version of what it means to step between two spaces at once’. Locke comments that ‘the possibilities for embedding many narratives within the non-linear space of a website makes it, perhaps, a more apt location for the project than a gallery exhibition. The web is regarded as a space where notions of identity can be infinitely mutable, and where community is the only organisational factor, themes which are central to ‘Virtual Exiles’. …

Again, the notion of collectiveness and participation seems central to producing work of this style. I feel that the work is stronger also in that it has a collective story and not simply the experiences of one person alone. You then begin to find recurring themes in experiences, as well as identifying differences also. I also like the notion of existing in two spaces at once, and see parallels here with existing both online and offline, and the way the two interact.

The work does not attempt to recreate a taxonomic archive but to present narrative spaces that reveal themselves through a series of breaks and ruptures – rollover images, scrolling shockwave texts and hidden links that require more persistence than the usual navigation tools.

I also need to think further about the form of the work, what type of experience do I want to create for the audience and why?