Creolizing the Caribbean 'Coolie': A biopolitical reading of Indian indentured labourers and the ethnoclass hierarchy

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Indentured immigration from India to the Caribbean began after abolition. In the French context, it is estimated that a total of 74,386 people undertook the transoceanic journey. These indentured labourers became known as 'coolies', although the term itself is inherently transnational, projective and ambiguous, and carries (to this day) considerable pejorative nuances. Significant differences exist between Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean perceptions of coolies. Whereas in the Anglophone world, authors such as V. S. Naipaul have raised the visibility of coolies, in Francophone Caribbean literature, coolie authors, and indeed coolie protagonists, have occupied an ambiguous, subaltern position. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben's understanding of the relationship between biopolitics, violence and power, and in particular his concepts of 'homo sacer', 'bare life' and the 'state of exception', this article examines the narrative strategies adopted by Raphaël Confiant and Maurice Virassamy in their contrasting accounts of the coolie experience. The neglected position of the coolie in the complex French Caribbean ethno-class hierarchy is explored through a biopolitical reading, reassessing questions of marginalization and exclusion to ask to what extent the coolie may be considered 'creolized'?.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-419
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Francophone Studies
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


  • Caribbean literature
  • Indenture coolie biopolitics
  • Slavery ethnoclass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Cultural Studies
  • Gender Studies
  • Linguistics and Language


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