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Mimesis and Alterity in the African Caribbean Quadrille: ethnography meets history

Thomas, Helen (2004) Mimesis and Alterity in the African Caribbean Quadrille: ethnography meets history. Cultural and Social History, 1 (3). pp. 281-302. ISSN 14780046

Type of Research: Article
Creators: Thomas, Helen

This article begins with an ethnographic account of Jamaican ‘quadrille’ dance workshop for older people in south-east London, as part of a research project on older people dancing (AHRB/MRG-AN43/49/APN10994). This workshop was chosen for in-depth ethnographic study, because the presence of the quadrille, a nineteenth-century English ‘set’ dance, seemed so out of time and place in this contemporary local African-Caribbean community (as discussed in Thinking Allowed, Radio 4, 2003).

It then explores the evolution and development of the quadrille from France to England, its rapid global spread to the Caribbean via the white plantocracy and its subsequent creolised transformations. In so doing, the taken-for-granted assumption in postmodern theory that globalisation is a recent phenomenon is challenged by evidencing the global reach of the quadrille across the Caribbean in the nineteenth-century. There follows a discussion of the two quadrille styles performed by the workshop in contemporary south-east London: the formal, ‘ballroom style’ and the ‘camp style’. According to oral tradition, the household creole servants and the musicians copied the quadrille ballroom style performed by their ‘masters’ and took it to their campsites, where they transformed it into the polyrhythmic, creolised ‘camp style’.

The relationship between ‘alterity’ and ‘difference’ in the performance of the quadrille in this twenty-first century context is explored by asking why did the slaves copy the masters’ dancing (by examining the nineteenth-century Jamaican Journals), and what is at stake in performing the quadrille in a twenty-first century Jamaican context in south-east London? The approach adopted is one of ‘ethnography-meets-history-meets-ethnography’, thus challenging narrow conceptions of either ethnographic or cultural historical research as speaking to different, non-negotiable time/space frames.

I was invited to contribute to the first issue of this refereed journal following a presentation at the 72nd Anglo-American Conference of Historians, 2003.
Additional evidence: BBC sound tape.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: RAE2008 UoA63
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Other Affiliations > RAE 2008
Date: 1 February 2004
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1191/478003804cs0025oa
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2009 21:50
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2014 14:49
Item ID: 1687
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/1687

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