The Contested Existence of a Peasantry in Martinique: Scientific Discourses, Controversies, and Evidence

  • Christine Chivallon
Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)


The inability of the descendants of slaves to gain control through land ownership has been seen as the recurrent element in Martinican social history, which the abolition of slavery did nothing to change. René Achéen suggested that the apparent postemancipation changes in plantation society in fact maintained structural continuity, as the abolition of slavery did not bring about any change in the structure of socioeconomic relationships. The very idea that a peasantry could be formed on the basis of land ownership following abolition was not even considered. However research on the English-speaking islands has had no difficulty in establishing such a relationship. For the French West Indies, the comment made by Hector Élisabeth echoes a widely held interpretation that was not really challenged until the 1990s: “One of the immediate consequences of abolition lay in the change in the slaves’ status, and thus in their ability to produce and affirm a new identity in the future. But since the abolition of slavery was not accompanied by any fundamental change with regard to land ownership, it did not change the status of the former slaves in any real way.”1 Influential works such as those of Édouard Glissant2 and to a lesser extent Francis Affergan3 postulate with equal conviction the existence of this link between possession of land and the creation of an identity that would have eventually come about through economic control but go on immediately to affirm that in Martinique nothing, not even the abolition of slavery, allowed this link to be established.


Small Property Land Ownership Large Estate Classical Interpretation Agrarian Group 
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  1. The reader may refer to the following references for a more complete approach to the chapter which is itself a synthesis of different works: Christine Chivallon, Espace et identité à la Martinique. Paysannerie des mornes et reconquête collective (1840–1960) (Paris: CNRS-Editions, 1998)Google Scholar
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  3. Christine Chivallon, “Paysannerie et patrimoine foncier à la Martinique: de la nécessité de réévaluer quelques interprétations classiques,” in Terres d’Amériques, 3 La question de la terre dans les colonies et départements français d’Amérique, 1848–1998 (Paris: Karthala and Géode Caraïbe, 2000), 17–36.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Jean Besson and Janet Momsen 2007

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  • Christine Chivallon

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