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.

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