Questions for CSA Past Presidents
Responses by Godfrey St. Bernard
CSA President 2012-2013
How did you come to specialize in Caribbean Studies?
Geography was of interest to me by the time I was 5 years old. I remember having the Collins Caribbean Atlas, a little green Atlas that made the Caribbean islands look big. Of course, I had no sense of scale but by age 7 years, I found myself being able to sketch all of the English-speaking islands by hand, name and locate the town/city that was the capital and state the names of the main airports. By the time I was in secondary school, I had been introduced to Caribbean geography and history, both of which gelled in terms of enhancing my understanding of peoples and places from a Caribbean context. From then on, I embarked on a mission to understand the people and places better and despite interests in Mathematics and Economics, the foci of my first degree, I have to say that my primary and secondary school instinctive interests prevailed to the extent that I now study, teach, live and love the Caribbean in all of its manifestations.
How did your interest in and commitment to Caribbean Studies evolve?
I think my undergraduate training at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus was the main catalyst in strengthening my commitment to Caribbean studies. In the late 1970s, UWI was one of the few institutions where you can study and live the Caribbean holistically. Dr. Roy Thomas taught first year economics when I started UWI in 1977 and emphasized the relevance of the subject-matter to Caribbean economic reality. He encouraged us to read Best, Levitt, Beckford, Demas and other key thinkers of the day. It was also pleasing to learn about the practices in the Central Statistical Office in Trinidad and Tobago and how such practices, in a Caribbean context, were informed by logic, methodology and economic theory. Back then, I was evolving as a budding young Caribbean economist but I have to say that I was intellectually restless being fascinated by my engagement with sociology, in particular, the readings of Lloyd Brathwaite, M.G. Smith, R.T. Smith, Orlando Patterson, Walter Rodney, Ivan Van Sertima to name a few. I needed to understand Caribbean peoples and places better and decided to pursue graduate studies in the late 1980s to accomplish that goal. With my kind of background, it is not surprising that my substantive pursuits were towards social demography and applied statistics but the sole purpose of such a choice was to assist me in my yearnings to understand Caribbean peoples and places better, based on intrinsic sensibilities that bestowed upon me a comparative advantage with regard to contributing to knowledge. Despite being in a Canadian university pursuing a Masters and a PhD, Caribbean scholars such as Professor G. Edward Ebanks and Professor Anton Allahar were instrumental in grounding my Caribbean focus and presenting me with complementary epistemological bases for interpreting and understanding Caribbean reality.
When did you first join CSA and what did it mean to you then?
I first joined the CSA in 1994 when I attended the 19th Annual Conference of the CSA in Merida, Mexico. Coincidentally, I am presiding over the 38th Annual Conference of the CSA. I have been hearing about the CSA since the late 1980s through the likes of Anton Allahar (sociologist) and Frank Manning (anthropologist) who has since passed on. At the time, I had tremendous respect for the scholarly works of these two men and knew that they would only be engaged in communities of scholars that shared similar ideals. Needless to say participating in my first CSA brought me into contact with such scholars and I have never stopped the engagement with them. I have to thank Professor Ryan in particular, as he encouraged the Research Fellows in ISER (now SALISES) to present papers every year in the annual conference. I cherish the multi-disciplinary character of the CSA and it is evident insofar as I have remained a true soldier despite the fact that my substantive interests seem somewhat divergent when compared to those of the majority of members. Nonetheless, I have always felt that the CSA is the best example of an institution that reflects the Caribbean in its truest sense; there are bridges across, linguistic, ethnic, residential and disciplinary domains. I consider the CSA to be the premier professional association of Caribbeanists and I am thankful for the few who recognize its worth and continue to support it selflessly, especially past presidents and their respective executive councils.
What were your goals for CSA the year of your presidency?
My goals were predicated upon the work begun by former presidents. It was as if I were running the last leg of a relay with specific goals in mind. These included assuring the incorporation of the CSA as a Non-Profit Association in Trinidad and Tobago and securing a Memorandum of Understanding between The UWI and the CSA. I can say that these two goals were satisfied during my tenure as president. I also sought to widen the membership of the CSA by developing a conference theme that would lend itself to multi-disciplinary insights and at the same time encourage interdisciplinarity. When I first joined the CSA, several disciplines were represented in the conference. I yearn for those days to return and am hoping that every disciplinary perspective that throws light on life and living in the face of challenges that plague the Caribbean, will evolve and grow because of the role that CSA plays in critical thought, academic enterprise, policy-making, activism, the arts and in the sciences. My hope is that the activities associated with the year of my presidency will reinforce, strengthen and set the platform for sustaining such thrusts. To this end, I have encouraged and will continue to encourage efforts to truly foster multi-lingualism as an ideal within the operations of the CSA.
What did you recognize to be the greatest obstacles facing CSA and Caribbean Studies during your presidency?
During my presidency, I spotted two major obstacles that continue to plague the CSA. The first has to be the challenge associated with fund-raising. I think the CSA has to become more visible and be recognized by a large cross-section of stakeholders in the Caribbean and in the diaspora if it is to be recognized as a viable harbinger for progressive agendas in Caribbean domains. Second, greater proportions of members have to embrace voluntary ideals with regard to service to the community of scholars comprising this organization. Notwithstanding CSA’s desire to uphold democratic traditions, there is need for a more genuine exercise of democratic principles that could only be obtained from greater proportions of the CSA membership recognizing and taking advantage of their right to represent theirs and the views of others who support similar causes.
What did you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of CSA that year?
I have to say that there was a three-way tie for the greatest accomplishment of the CSA during my presidential year. Being able to chart the course resulting in the CSA being formally incorporated as a Non-Profit Organization and facilitate the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding have been principal accomplishments in addition to articulating a conference theme that has been able to generate upwards of 500 abstracts that relate to a theme that is very dear to me as someone with scholarly tendencies and as a practitioner in the field of applied social research. I have to admit that I have been dissatisfied with the outcomes of remedies to facilitate development in Caribbean spaces and institutions and felt that my community of Caribbean scholars can contribute constructively in accordance with their theoretical perspectives, methodological insights and passionate encounters.
Why did you choose the location you did for the CSA annual conference that year?
Given the theme of the conference, I chose Grenada because it is a small Caribbean island with a formidable history that epitomizes the challenges and vicissitudes of development. Grenada has had its fair share of rebellion, promise, devastation and resilience, whether due to the force of nature or the force of humankind, the latter due to ideological differences. My more politically astute colleagues also reminded me that 2013 marked the 30th Anniversary of the events that resulted in the demise of the Peoples’ Revolutionary Government and the subsequent US Invasion. I also thought that the site of the conference in Grand Anse was significant insofar as Grand Anse was also the site where the CARICOM Single Market and Economy was established as a medium to facilitate sub-regional development. Finally, I am the son of a son of Grenadian soil so that the decision to suggest Grenada as the 2013 meeting place of the CSA was apt. Having been born in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada was my first international destination well before I was two years old. Just over fifty years later, I thought it was really nice to return with my academic colleagues and hopefully contribute as we should towards Grenada’s development agenda.
Where do you hope to see CSA in the next ten years?
In the next 10 years, the CSA should have its own set of journals that are distributed in accordance with media consistent with the state of technological advancement. I say set of journals insofar as I see the CSA as a multi-disciplinary organ that should stimulate scholarly enterprise in every conceivable disciplinary domain that impacts the reality of Caribbean peoples and spaces and how such peoples and spaces transform and evolve with the passage of time as they interact with similar entities on an international scale. Moreover, I wish to see a CSA that also promotes the virtues of interdisciplinarity as a means of pursuing knowledge, contesting it and enhancing understanding. In keeping with recent thrusts within the CSA, I long for greater collaboration and exchanges of Caribbean peoples across linguistic domains in all spheres of life whether associated with academia, trade, sport, research, culture and diplomacy. To this end, CSA and its members should be the conduits of such change. Hopefully, The UWI will be recognized as a partner towards all of these ends through the Memorandum of Understanding with the CSA.
What is one of your fondest CSA memories?
I think that I would have to say that it was in Brazil in 2007. Mala Jokhan was a student in SALISES and was giving a paper for the first time in CSA in a panel jointly developed by Frank Mills and me. She travelled with me all the way from Port of Spain to Salvador de Bahia and back to Port of Spain. I really felt that CSA was a supreme organization when I heard her refer to the humility of such celebrated personalities whom she had met and who graciously welcomed her despite that fact that she was a student. She alluded to the fact that she could now put faces to the several names of top flight scholars whose works she read as an undergrad and in her early post-grad years. One such scholar was Mindy Lazzarus-Black but there were several others.
What are you doing now in terms of the Caribbean?
I continue to be the academic co-ordinator of the Master of Science in Development Statistics in SALISES, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. I continue to work with international partners whether through research, training and consultancies to advance the cause of sustainable development processes in Latin America and the Caribbean and embrace standards that will also extend to the point of having global reach. I continue to uphold the highest standards for incorporating method and methodology in the pursuit of systematic research and especially build capabilities with respect to the use of quantitative research designs in research akin to development studies. At the same time, I continue to promote the virtues of quantitative research, qualitative research and mixed research traditions to the next generation of Caribbean researchers so that they become more open minded yet critical of research process and its contribution to the spread and evaluation of knowledge.
Where do see the future of Caribbean Studies?
While Latin American Studies has been internationalized in a manner similar to Asian Studies and African Studies, the same cannot be said for studies focusing on the Caribbean as a Sub-Region of Latin America and the Caribbean. The latter component has to be internationalized and the situation becomes even more acute in the context of the smaller eastern Caribbean islands. In under-studied Caribbean spaces and cultures, key stakeholders have to recognize the importance of knowledge and understanding in coping with real life challenges and ensure that future thrusts remedy this situation. As the CSA moves from site to site annually, this is among the many messages that it should bring, disseminate and leave if under-studied spaces are to become more visible and incorporated in Caribbean Studies as a subject-matter domain. By being present in any given Caribbean space, CSA members create opportunities for networking and as such, are critical change agents whether actively or passively.
What would you recommend to a young scholar starting in Caribbean Studies?
The best way to advance the cause of Caribbean peoples and spaces is to be critical in your thought process. But being critical in your thought process requires that you also be open-minded to the extent that you can become critical of yourself. Experiential knowledge rooted in passionate instincts drives laypeople but as a scholar, one ought to be guided by critical thinking and accept fallibility.