The Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, Mona: 60 years of Praxis

A potted history of the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Social Sciences at Mona, Jamaica

NB: The following article was written in 2008 for a commemorative insert in the Gleaner at the request of the then dean, Mark Figueroa. It is NOT an official document put out by the University of the West Indies. Today I received a request from a lecturer at UWI, St. Augustine, asking me where her students could source this article and i thought the best way to do this was to publish it here. It would also take care of today’s post for #NABLOPOMO which requires participants to post something each day for the month of November 🙂

The study and teaching of social sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, is an academic venture that started in 1948 with the establishment of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the then nascent UniversityCollege of the West Indies. The funding for this new institution was provided by a Colonial Development and Welfare grant provided by the British Government.

It would be another twelve years before a Faculty of Social Sciences was instituted at the University. The thinking was that researchers working at ISER on social and economic issues in the Caribbean would create a bank of relevant local research that academics could draw on in the teaching of Caribbean Economics, Political Science and Sociology.

As early as 1953 therefore, a quarterly, inter-disciplinary journal, Social and Economic Studies (SES), was established with a view to publishing and disseminating the fruits of the research conducted at ISER. The climate of intellectual ferment at the Institute was such that despite the lack of an approved budget the Director Dudley Huggins decided to go ahead with production of the journal using small grants from various sources including the Leverhulme Foundation in London and a contribution from the Colonial Secretary. The Institute also embarked on a publishing programme producing books, monographs and working papers. These were to become important texts in the teaching of Caribbean social science.

The Faculty of Social Sciences was formally established in June 1960. The Faculty initially had only two departments: Government and Economics. Later a one-year course in Public Administration was instituted for technical and administrative personnel in the British Caribbean. In October a two-year certificate course in Social Work was introduced and in 1961 the Department of Sociology was established. Early staff members were recruited from Britain and it was only by the mid-sixties that lecturers of West Indian or Caribbean extraction began to teach in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

This early cadre of West Indian lecturers set out with alacrity to analyze, research and teach various aspects of Caribbean reality. By so doing they aspired to contribute to the development of Caribbean society as well as make their mark in their respective fields. They ran headlong however into resistance and hostility from the British researchers who formed the core of the teaching departments who felt that there were no social and economic problems specific to the Caribbean and that the creation of a Caribbean-oriented Economics, Sociology or Political Science would lead to a dangerous parochialism.

The Economics Department was particularly active in the early years with lecturers representing a wide range of differing ideological perspectives. By the late 60s and early 1970s there was already a vibrant critique of the work of the Nobel-prize winning Arthur Lewis’s Theory of Economic Growth and the work of George Cumper, a stalwart of the department since 1949. The latter was a prolific contributor to Social and Economic Studies, the journal started by ISER.

These critiques came from a group of loosely allied thinkers known as the New World Group in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Their aim was to develop an “indigenous view of the region”. It was members of this group that produced the influential ‘PlantationSchool’ model of economic analysis which was rooted in a strong sense of pan-Caribbean nationalism. The group included thinkers such as Lloyd Best, Norman Girvan, George Beckford and Michael Witter. In recent times this paradigm has in turn been challenged by a younger cadre of economists such as Damien King, Dillon Alleyne and others.

Meanwhile the Sociology Department was animated by the work of social structuralists such as Lloyd Brathwaite and R.T. Smith. A younger generation was hot on their heels with M.G. Smith and his theory of plural societies leading the way. The latter was the principal author of The Rastafari movement in Kingston, Jamaica co-authored with Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford and published by ISER in 1960. This was the first academic study undertaken of this unique indigenous religious movement. Smith was in turn challenged in later years by Marxist sociologists such as Don Robotham and Derek Gordon and others who posited a ‘Creole Society’ in opposition to Smith’s Plural Society model. In more recent years sociologists such as Patricia Anderson, Hermione McKenzie and Ian Boxill have continued the tradition. By 2002 the Department was expanded and became the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work.

The Department of Government in turn had its own ideological battles with the likes of Trevor Munroe, head of the Worker’s Party of Jamaica, in its ranks. In the seventies ISER published Munroe’s The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization: Jamaica, 1944–62. In general UWI political scientist concerned themselves with “an investigation of questions concerning power and state legitimacy, community and justice, and authority and civil order in contemporary Jamaica”. Louis Lindsay’s seminal works The Myth of Independence — Middle Class Politics and Non-Mobilization in Jamaica and The Myth of a Civilizing Mission: British Colonialism and the Politics of Symbolic Manipulation were published as working papers by ISER. Meanwhile Rupert Lewis engaged in ground breaking research on Marcus Garvey, producing important texts on the pan-African leader.

The eighties were dominated by the quixotic figure of the late Carl Stone (1940-1993), and his theory of “clientelism”. Stone was a public intellectual with his Gleaner columns and his surveys and polls. The theory of clientelism, it has been said, is to the political sociology of the Jamaican polity what M. G. Smith’s theory of pluralism is to the anthropological analysis of its society and culture. Stone offered “his social-political clientelism in direct criticism of Smith’s cultural pluralism as the theoretical handle able to supply the best understanding of modern life in Jamaica.” In his first book, Class, Race, and Political Behaviour in Urban Jamaica, published in Kingston in 1973, Stone made the case for building up an empirical tradition of political science in the Caribbean.

Younger members of the Department of Government such as Brian Meeks, by contrast, concerned himself with the re-historicization of radical politics (especially revolts, insurrections and revolutions) so as to make visible the “hidden transcripts” of those whose voices and actions have been marginalized or suppressed. Anthony Bogues, sought “to generate an understanding of the “symbolic orders” of a popular political tradition, and of the alternative conceptions of history, freedom and sovereignty that this tradition articulates and embeds in its practices”.

Meanwhile the Faculty continued to grow with the Department of Management Studies being officially established in 1971. In 1978 the Centre for Hotel and Tourism Management was established as a specialist department within the Faculty of Social Sciences, Mona although located in Nassau, the Bahamas.

In 1984 a major landmark of the Faculty came about with the establishment of  ISER’s Mona Documentation and Data Centre for the storage, retrieval and dissemination of documents and data.  This was followed in 1985 by the founding of The Consortium Graduate School in the Social Sciences. The introduction of an experimental multi-disciplinary MSc Social Sciences degree was approved to start from October 1985 for a minimum of two (2) years in the ConsortiumGraduateSchool.

In 1999 the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) and the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences (CGS) were merged to create the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES). Sixty years after its creation the Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, Mona continues to retool and re-invent itself to cope with the demands of a region in constant change.

The Things People Refuse…

On Jamaica’s linguistic identity crisis…

Not many people realize that Jamaica is a bilingual society. This isn’t surprising since the Caribbean island goes out of its way to promote itself as a nation of  English-speakers; after all English is the language with the greatest global currency today. The problem is that in doing so Jamaicans willfully sweep under the rug their mother tongue– Jamaican Patois or Patwa –the polyglot lingua franca of the hoi polloi or common people. Patwa, which developed over the centuries to negotiate social interaction between slave-owners and the enslaved, is an oral language, a Creole.

Creoles, the hybrid languages of the former slave colonies and plantation societies are routinely devalued in comparison to European languages. They are considered inferior because of not being scribal, making them vulnerable to the widely held prejudice that non-written languages lack conceptual depth, thereby restricting thought itself. Their expressive range is considered too limited to handle technological or scientific subject matter and the numbers of people who speak and understand them too miniscule to make them worth studying or preserving.

Thus in Jamaica English reigns supreme on the patios of the privileged while patois/Patwa rules the street. Touting itself as an English-speaking polity (the only official language of the country) disregard for Patwa, the first language of many Jamaicans, is virtually built into the official institutions of society. This has resulted in the relegation of monolingual Patwa-speakers to second class citizenship, because their language (and by extension their culture) is considered an unsuitable subject for school curricula or for polite or official discourse; thus like the proverbial man without a state, Creole or Patwa speakers are in effect rendered persona non grata at the official level.

Countries such as Haiti and Martinique manifest a similar identity crisis in relation to their Creoles or mother tongues which are deprecated in contrast to the French language inherited from their colonizers. Meanwhile as far away as Australia, a new parliamentary report is challenging the pro-English  ‘monolingual mindset’ by constitutionally recognizing its indigenous languages and promoting education in them. The report, Our Land, Our Languages, recognizes that language is “inseparable from culture, kinship, land and family and is the foundation on which the capacity to learn, interact and to shape identity is built.”

The Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, an offshoot of the University’s Linguistics Department, has been arguing for years that freedom from discrimination on the ground of language be inserted into the Charter of Rights here. Ironically monolingual Patwa-speakers have more rights in the UK, US or Canada where interpreters are provided if and when one of them appears in court. In Jamaica such citizens have to muddle through on their own with judges and lawyers who refuse to speak anything but the Queen’s English.

Regrettably elite regard for English in Jamaica is almost fetishistic; its hegemonic status and global currency are used to trump any argument for the elevation of Patwa from its lowly status or for its use as an educational tool. In school the medium of instruction is English, a severe disadvantage to the children of monolingual Patwa-speakers, who have the handicap of learning history, science, geography and other subjects in a language they barely know or have enough fluency in. This system benefits middle and upper class children who come from homes where English is learnt as the first language.

MIT-based Haitian linguist Michael deGraffe has identified the same problem in Haiti despite Kreyol being recognized as an official language there. Clearly, changing the status of Jamaican Patwa isn’t enough to correct what has become a deeply entrenched mindset.  It must be used, as linguists at the University of the West Indies have been recommending, as the language of instruction for monolingual Patwa-speakers. Meanwhile ventures such as the Patois Bible project (the translation of the Bible into Patwa) initiated by Malcolm Gladwell’s maternal aunt, Faith Linton, are making inroads into the way Jamaicans view their language.

The problem with relying exclusively on any one European language as the official language is that the citadels of so-called Standard English or French can just as quickly become strangleholds when exaggerated respect for it fosters exclusion, conservatism and officiousness rather than the free-wheeling creativity typically associated with Creole or Patwa and the sonic culture it generates.

Born out of forced contact between wildly disparate cultures, Creole vernaculars are actually highly mobile cross-cultural languages capable of rapid change and very comfortable with new technologies and the new media of communication.  They are inherently languages of negotiation, barter and accommodation, of finding solutions using the slightest of resources. European languages, on the other hand, especially as spoken, practised and codified in the postcolony, become rigid grammars used to police and enforce formality, bureaucratic privilege and ‘good taste’. As a result the Jamaican postcolonial elite are literally trapped in English–like flies in amber.

Note that in the Jamaican context it is not the English-speaking elites who have put the country on the map so to speak, but the supposedly narrow-in-outlook, less-educated, Patwa-speaking majority whose exploits in music and athletics, areas where their lack of English cannot hold them back, have dominated global attention. The former’s obsession with creating “national” culture for the Creole nation-states of the Caribbean, slavishly dependent on European models, has resulted in a kind of unproductive mimicry, an inflexible adherence to models of governance, aesthetics and literacy which have long been reformatted in their countries of origin. In my opinion the antipathy of such national cultures to the Creole languages native to the region, has also deprived them of the vernacular creativity encoded in such cross-cultural linguistic forms.

At the moment Jamaica is—metaphorically speaking—a tongue-tied nation, with all the problems attendant on such a handicap; Tongue-tied not in the sense of being speechless but in its inability to fluently articulate its disparate selves.  Language and identity are locked in a zero-sum game, with Jamaica’s two languages forever pitted against one another like implacably opposed rivals; if one ‘wins’, the other loses. An unproductive stalemate has been reached. There is an urgent need for the country’s vernacular, Patwa, to be given equal status with English and for official recognition of Jamaica as a bilingual society. But any attempt to initiate the first step in this direction is viewed as an assault on English, and by extension, on those who believe or are invested in its superior status.

Perhaps Jamaicans should take the advice of the world’s most famous Patwa-speaker, Bob Marley, who sang “The things people refuse are the things they should use,“ echoing the biblical sentiment that “the stone that the builder refused will always be the head corner stone.” Will Jamaica ever realize its full potential unless it recognizes Patwa as its head corner stone?

Tommy Lee Channels Pirate Henry Morgan in Port Royal

Featuring rising dancehall star Tommy Lee’s latest music video shot in Port Royal, Jamaica.

Newest Dancehall star Tommy Lee shooting music video for We Want Paper in Port Royal…

Here’s Tommy Lee, the new star from the Gaza firmament, shooting his latest music video, We Want Paper, in Port Royal. According to his publicity machine:

The song is a special one for the performer who is also the song’s writer. It was penned to inspire youngsters to focus on working hard to achieve financial success. “Youths them a the future, we nuh want no fourteen shooter, fe mess up we dream like Freddy Krueger”, words of encouragement from Tommy Lee. Neighborhood children chorused with the artiste word for word on the set.

By setting the video against the backdrop of Port Royal, once known as the wickedest city in the West, Lee hopes to tune into its history, that of a once wealthy capital of criminality reduced to rubble by an earthquake. The message? The guilty will be punished, crime doesn’t pay.

Interestingly the song is an anti-gun tune and aims to promote education, heterosexuality and materialism if i read the lyrics and images correctly. We want paper, big up all moneymaker… I like it, the production values are great, editing is by fellow musician Wayne Marshall. Incidentally i love the name of his company and its logo, see screenshot below to see what i mean. And immediately below that watch a YouTube video of We Want Paper:

One Laptop per Child reaches Jamaica

What the One Laptop per Child project is doing in Jamaica…



Recently I had a conversation with Sameer Verma of San Francisco State University about an innovative venture he’s involved with — the One Laptop per Child project. Verma, an open source software (OSS) activist, was invited by Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and new Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, whom he went to school with, to spearhead the OLPC project in Jamaica. According to the OLPC Jamaica website:

OLPC Jamaica is a general interest group for the One Laptop per Child initiatives in Jamaica. The group started at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, Jamaica on 5th September, 2008. Compelled by the belief that the OLPC has considerable potential for enhancing the efficient delivery, and improved Pedagogy in early childhood education in Jamaica, OLPC Jamaica intends to foster interest, generate ideas and learn from experiences about OLPC both on the UWI campus and in its neighboring communities.
The Group is currently embarked on deployment pilots of the OLPC concept in two local schools:
– The August Town Primary School, located in the heart of the August Town community in the University’s Township neighborhood
– Providence Methodist Basic school, located on the premises of the Providence Methodist Church in Liguanea

Now in its fourth year Verma pointed out some of the recent findings from the pilot project in August Town where Grade 4,5 and 6 students are involved. Each laptop, equipped with wireless connectivity, multimedia software, an edition of Wikipedia, games and recording equipment is provided to the youngest child in each family, there not being enough laptops to be given to every child at school. The computer belongs to them for the year, and they are allowed to take it home. One outcome of this is that children are teaching their parents or caregivers various things using the laptops.

Children at August Town Primary showing off their Xo laptops. Photo: Varun Baker

One of the interesting findings in August Town Primary has been that the most popular software on it has been a math game called TuxMath. It is the most frequently used item on the laptop and technicians who occasionally upgrade the software said that children who had somehow lost the game during upgrades would bother them endlessly to have it put back on. Lest you dismiss this as a mere game (as the blurb says’ TuxMath lets kids hone their arithmetic skills while they defend penguins from incoming comets, or offers them a chance to explore the asteroid belt with only their factoring abilities to bring them through safely!’)  the principal of the school said that normally when Grade 4 students are tested their numeracy scores sit in the mid 40s; for the batch who had played the TuxMath game the numeracy score rose to 61%. At a time when educators are discussing the lack of qualified math teachers in the school system the experience of the children in August Town Primary is particularly instructive.


Verma has met with Ministry of Education personnel to discuss the next step which is the production of textbooks as e-books. While enthusiastic about this, Ministry officials also seem locked into a Kindle mentality, that is, thinking that the adoption of e-books necessitates e-book-readers such as Kindles or Nooks to read the electronic textbooks, whereas Verma is trying to persuade them that this is unnecessary and even counterproductive to the kind of learning the OLPC project is promoting. In fact e-book reading software can easily be downloaded and added to the Xo laptops allowing children to read their school texts on the same machine they use for multimedia activity daily.

According to Verma this speaks to a deeper issue. “Learning is not just about consumption, it also has to be about production because creativity means I learn, I absorb and then I produce something. Book readers are a one-way process.” Interactivity is a core feature of the software provided on Xo laptops. Verma explains: For example there’s a game that will show you a river crossing and a train waiting to cross the river but there’s no bridge. The child’s task is to use drawing tools to build a bridge and connect it and make it strong enough for the train to go across. Then you hit go and the train starts crossing but if the bridge structure isn’t strong enough it crashes to the ground and you have to go back and build another bridge. Laws of physics and measurement come into play and over a process of building and rebuilding until you manage to get the train across a child learns many scientific and creative principles.

The Jamaican experiment with OLPC is funded/supported by several partners: Pace Canada, UWI’s Township Project, LIME and the Early Childhood Learning Commission. OLPC is being used in 47 countries.  In Peru the Ministry of Education funds it and there are 1.1 million laptops. Uruguay however, has the highest density with 100% saturation in primary school, every primary schoolchild getting a laptop when they start school. According to Verma the focus in Peru is different. In addition to integrating it into schoolwork they have a full programme during summer vacation where the laptops are used for summer vacation activities which count towards something at school. For older children in higher grades they’ve also attached robots to the laptops enabling children to explore all sorts of other capabilities. Different countries use the project for different ends and in different ways.  In Afghanistan where girls have been forbidden from going to school by the Taliban, the laptops come in particularly useful allowing female students to stay at home and learn. In Nepal everything has been translated into Nepali and is completely content-driven.

In Jamaica UWI has provided student interns to work in the field. What is needed now is for one major funder to come on board or failing that the Ministry of Education. Having a number of small partners creates a problem with ‘ownership’, if no one feels total ownership, its difficult to move the project forward as is needed. For more information view the video below and link to the OLPC Jamaica website. Also check here for beautiful photos of the children in the August Town project.

The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed…

An innovative video on class, race and other matters in Jamaica as well as a really acute quote from songwriter/singer Tanya Stephens…



When i got back to the rock from Trinidad last week the big news was a protest that had erupted on the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus. Students who owed fees were not allowed to sit final exams and a bangarang ensued. Public opinion was divided on the matter but the most creative, trenchant critique i came across was the video retort (above) to statements by a UWI student who had been interviewed on the matter. It brings to the fore many tensions simmering just a skin away from the surface regarding class, race, privilege and education. It’s well worth a watch.

And not at all related but equally provocative and nakedly intelligent was this Facebook post by singer Tanya Stephens…yes, she who wrote These streets don’t love you like i do…. Talk about Satanic verse…

I feel compelled to apologize to Satan on behalf of all humans this evening. For generations you who dont even exist have been criminalized, blamed for every thing we humans do and feel stupid about because we know it’s not in our best collective interest. I want to apologize especially on behalf of the clergy who earn so much off your name yet haven’t enough gratitude to say thanks. Let me also take this opportunity to thank you for taking the blame for the stupid shit i’ve done, and let you know it wasn’t in vain for I have learned from them and wont be needing your services anymore. I simply MUST apologize for you bearing the blame for wars and hunger, poverty. Ironically, the collective wealth of organized religion could solve these problems if redistributed with the love they profess, yet they who are righteous say you’re the bad guy… My humblest apologies!

Now if that doesn’t tell you why Tanya is one of the most innovative songwriters in Jamaica today i can’t imagine what will…she cuts to the heart of darkness at the centre of most religious belief and human endeavour…would love to know what you think….

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