Demeaned But Empowered: The Social Power of the Urban Poor in Jamaica

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University of the West Indies Press, 2004 - Political Science - 429 pages
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Gray's central thesis asserts that the Jamaican state is a form of predatory state that incorporates contradictory social forces into an arrangement that is hierarchical, often brutal and ultimately debilitating to democracy. He introduces a series of constructs to support this argument, but the more interesting and novel theses are to be found in his vivid description of the social forces that resist the predatory state and how they have carved out a modicum of autonomy based on what he describes as an elaborate value system of badness/honour.

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I am surprised not to see many reviews of this work given its direct relevance, intellectual rigor and explicit explanation of the nature of politics and political dependents in Jamaican society. Gray not only makes his own very powerful observations but examines and takes vigorous exception to several of the most highly regarded and commonly accepted positions held by the late Carl Stone, himself a very highly respected commentator on Jamaican society and politics. There is not much to oppose or disagree with in what Gray writes, especially when what he writes is so copiously supported by very reliable sources. I have a single disappointment however.
Given the elaborate treatment of the subject, perfectly exemplified in the book's title, it appears a serious shortcoming that Gray does not go the extra step to suggest, if not recommend, a useful alternative approach to governance in Jamaica, Granted that in his Conclusion he does refer to Rastafarian behavior and "Caribbean Africanism" as an alternative system worthy of consideration, he nevertheless appears quite subdued in his approach. His very powerful narrative almost demands a much more vigorous and explicit excursion into the areas of alternatives or competitive options.
Still, "Demeaned But Empowered" remains one of the most outstanding works of its kind and should be studied by every scholar engaged in work on the subject as well as by all those with more than a passing interest in Jamaican politics and its impact on Jamaican society at large. It is abundantly clear that the book reveals to the non-native, especially, a most confusing yet compelling view of what lies at the very heart and soul of the Jamaican dilemma - an alarming willingness to adjust and accommodate indefinitely by both political leadership and those that elected them to lead.

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Every jamaican should read this one!


A Fateful Alliance
Fulcrums of Power in the Ghetto
Exilic Space Moral Culture and Social
BadnessHonour and the Invigorated
Warfare and Solidarity
Crime Politics and Moral Culture
The Struggle for Benefits
Uncaptured Rebels
Criminal SelfOrganization and Cultural Extremism
Epilogue The Ordeal of Social Reconstruction

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About the author (2004)

Obika Gray is Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. He is author of Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 1960-1972.

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