Skip to main content Accessibility help

THE PROPERTIES OF CITIZENS: A Caribbean Grammar of Conjugal Categories

  • Tracy Robinson (a1)

This paper considers how a taxonomy of conjugality—marriage, common-law marriage, and visiting relationships—emerged as a specialized vocabulary to apprehend and govern the postcolonial Caribbean. Although the metaphor of intersections does not fully capture the ways these categories relate to each other to produce social meaning, I employ an intersectional framework to offer a close reading of the routes through which these and other social differences and equivalences are produced as dimensions of citizenship in specific historical contexts, such as the period of decolonization and Caribbean nation-formation. In so doing, I illustrate how the categorization of intimate relationships codified a hierarchy based on intersections of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, and established rough moral boundaries for a heterosexual Caribbean nation. The lives of working class Black women animate the categorization. I show how by centering these women in intimate relationship codes their sexuality is contained and patriarchy naturalized. In this paper, I suggest that we should mark the role intersectionality plays in constituting categories of intimate association, explore how these categories shape sentiments about belonging, and articulate the social costs of their instantiations.

Corresponding author
Tracy Robinson, Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston 7, Jamaica. Email:
Hide All
Adams v. Clarke (1991). High Court, Barbados. 1 November. BB 1991 HC 83 (Carilaw Database).
Altink, Henrice (2006). “The Misfortune of Being Black and Female”: Black Feminist Thought in Interwar Jamaica. thirdspace, January 5(2). ⟨⟩ (accessed April 17, 2011)
Andrews, J. A. (1959). The Common Law Marriage. Modern Law Review, 22: 396407.
Barbados Family Law 1981, Chapter 214, Laws of Barbados, 1985 Revision.
Barrow, Christine (1996). Family in the Caribbean: Themes and Perspectives. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers and James Currey Publishers.
Barrow, Christine (1999). Men, Women and Family in the Caribbean. In Mohammed, Patricia and Shepherd, Catherine (Eds.), Gender in Caribbean Development, pp. 149175. Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press.
Blake, Judith (1961). Family Structure in Jamaica: The Social Context of Reproduction. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.
Blake, Judith (1989). Interview by Jean Van der Tak. In Jean Van der Tak, Demographic Destinies: Interviews with Presidents and Secretary-Treasurers of the Population Association of America: PAA Oral History Project. Vol. 1, Presidents, No. 3: From 1977–1993 (2005), pp. 94–122. Washington, DC: PPA. ⟨⟩ (accessed June 30, 2013).
Braithwaite, Lloyd (1957). Sociology and Demographic Research in the British Caribbean. Social and Economic Studies, 6(4): 523571.
Briggs, Jill (2011). “As Fool-Proof as Possible”: Overpopulation, Colonial Demography and the Jamaica Birth Control League. The Global South, 4(2): 157177.
British Guiana (1949). Census of the Colony of British Guiana 1946.
Butler, Judith (1999). On Speech, Race and Melancholia: An Interview with Judith Butler. Interview by Vikki Bell. Theory, Culture & Society, 16(2): 163174.
Carnegie, Charles V. (1996). The Dundus and the Nation. Cultural Anthropology, 11: 470509.
Chevannes, Barry (2002). If the Shoe Doesn't Fit: Law and the African-Caribbean Family. Journal of Eastern Caribbean Studies, 27: 8095.
Clarke, Edith ([1957] 1999). My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of the Families in Three Selected Communities of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: The Press University of the West Indies.
Collins, Patricia Hill (1998). Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Nation: Some Implications for Black Family Studies. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29: 2736.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 14: 139167.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6): 12411299.
Daily Gleaner (1938a). Found Guilty on Capital Charge in Portland Assizes: Youthful Eyewitness Testifies to Brutal Act, Jealousy Motive. Daily Gleaner, November 7, 21.
Daily Gleaner (1938b). Mr. Bustamante Declares Majority of Industries Here Can Pay Dollar a Day. Daily Gleaner, November 17, 18.
Daily Gleaner (1938c). Machete Wielder Given Six Month Term. Daily Gleaner, December 6, 21.
Daily Gleaner (1938d). Woman Stands Trial for Her Life Tomorrow: Portland Labourer Accused of Murdering Common Law Husband. Daily Gleaner, December 6, 21.
Daily Gleaner (1939). Women's Liberal Club Aim at Mass Wedding. Daily Gleaner, September 6, 16–17.
Daily Gleaner (1941a). Liberal Club Arranging Mass Wedding for July. Daily Gleaner, 19 June, 7.
Daily Gleaner (1941b). Thirty Six Couples in Mass Wedding: Liberal Club's Effort to Better Social Conditions Heartily Supported. Daily Gleaner, July 17, 14.
Dhamoon, Rita Kaur (2011). Considerations on Mainstreaming Intersectionality. Political Research Quarterly, 64(1): 230243.
Edmondson, Belinda (1999). Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority, and Women's Writing in Caribbean Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Ewick, Patricia and Silbey, Susan S. (1998). The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Franke, Katharine (2006). Sexuality and Marriage: The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, 15: 236248.
Great Britain (1945). West India Royal Commission Report. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office Cmd 6607.
Guyana Married Persons (Property) Act 1990.
Hack v. Rahieman (1977). 27 West Indian Reports 109 (Court of Appeal, Guyana).
Hall, Catherine (2002). Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination 1830–1867. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Harewood, Jack (1973). Female Fertility and Family Planning in Trinidad and Tobago: Final Report on the 1970 Family Planning Survey-Females. Trinidad: Institute of Social and Economic Research, UWI, St. Augustine.
Harewood, Jack (1982). Unions and Partners in Guyana. Paper presented at the World Fertility Survey Caribbean Seminar, Trinidad, September 6–8.
Harrinarine v. Aziz (1987). High Court, Trinidad and Tobago. 3 March.TT 1987 HC 205 (Carilaw Database).
Henriques, Fernando (1949). West Indian Family Organization. American Journal of Sociology, 55: 3037.
Henriques, Fernando (1953). Family and Colour in Jamaica. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.
Henry v. Henry (1959). 1 West Indian Reports 149 (Supreme Court, App Div, Trinidad and Tobago).
Ibberson, D. (1956). A Note on the Relationship between Illegitimacy and the Birthrate. Social and Economic Studies, 5(1): 93100.
Jamaica (1941). Report of the Committee Appointed to Enquire into the Prevalence of Concubinage and the High Rate of Illegitimacy in the Island and Their Effect on the Moral, Social and Economic Progress of the People, and to Make Recommendations Whereby the Present State of Affairs May Be Improved. 9 October. On file with the National Library of Jamaica (Pam 301.42 Ja Rep).
Jamaica (1945). Eight Census of Jamaica 1943: Administrative Report Part 10. Kingston, Jamaica: Government Printing Office.
Jamaica Domestic Violence Act No 15 of 1994, as amended by Act No 32 of 2004.
Jamaica Property (Rights of Spouses) Act No. 4 of 2004.
Kempadoo, Kamala (2004). Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race and Sexual Labour. New York: Routledge.
Khan, Aisha (1998). Constructing Identities in Trinidad. American Ethnologist, 25(3): 499500.
Khan, Aisha (2006). Caribbean ‘Community’? Deciphering a Regional Cipher. In Creed, Gerald (Ed.), The Seductions of Community: Emancipations, Oppressions, Quandries, pp. 143174. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Khan v. Khan (1970). High Court, Guyana. 27 October. GY 1970 HC 12 (Carilaw Database).
Kuczynski, R. R. (1953). Demographic Survey of the British Colonial Empire, Volume III West Indian and American Territories. London: Oxford University Press.
Lamming, George (2002). The Sovereignty of the Imagination: An Interview with George Lamming. Interview with David Scott. Small Axe, 12: 72200.
Lazarus-Black, Mindie (1994). Legitimate Acts and Illegal Encounters: Law and Society in Antigua and Barbuda. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute.
Lazarus-Black, Mindie (1995). My Mother Never Fathered Me: Rethinking Kinship and the Governing of Families. Social and Economic Studies, 44(1): 4971.
Lazarus-Black, Mindie (2003). The (Heterosexual) Regendering of a Modern State: Criminalizing and Implementing Domestic Violence Law in Trinidad. Law and Social Inquiry, 28(4): 9791008.
Lucas, Peter (1990). Common Law Marriage. Cambridge Law Journal, 49(1): 117134.
Maitland, Frederic W. (1898). Roman Canon Law in the Church of England. New York: Burt Franklin.
Matthews, Dom Basil ([1953] 1971). Crisis of the West Indian Family: A Sample Study. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
McDonnough, Pat (1999). A Biographical Note on Edith Clarke. In Edith Clarke [1957], My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of the Families in Three Selected Communities of Jamaica, Appendix 5.3, pp. 229232. Kingston, Jamaica: The Press University of the West Indies.
Mezey, Naomi (2003). Erasure and Recognition: The Census, Race and the National Imagination. Northwestern University Law Review, 97: 17011768.
Mintz, Sidney W. (2006). The Anthropology of Ourselves: An Interview with Sidney W. Mintz. Interview with Charles V. Carnegie. Small Axe, 10(2): 106177.
Murray, David (2009). Homo Hauntings: Spectral Sexuality and the Good Citizen in Barbadian Media. In Murray, David (Ed.), Homophobias: Lust and Loathing across Time and Space, pp. 146161. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Nettleford, Rex (1999). Foreword. In Clarke, Edith [1957], My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of the Families in Three Selected Communities of Jamaica, pp. vi–xi. Kingston, Jamaica: The Press University of the West Indies.
Rafique v. Rafique (1966–1969). 9 Trinidad and Tobago Law Reports 184, (Court of Appeal, Trinidad and Tobago).
Rahieman v. Hack (1975). High Court, Guyana. 23 May. GY 1975 HC 24 (Carilaw Database).
Roberts, Dorothy (2003). Family Planning Policy and Development Discourse in Trinidad & Tobago: A Case Study in Nationalism and Women's Equality. Working Paper, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University Series WP-04-06. ⟨⟩ (accessed April 17, 2011).
Roberts, George ([1957] 1979). The Population of Jamaica. Cambridge, England: Conservation Foundation at the University Press.
Roberts, G. W. and Braithwaite, L. (1961). A Gross Mating Table for a West Indian Population. Population Studies, 14(3): 198217.
Roberts, George and Sinclair, Sonja (1978). Women in Jamaica: Patterns of Reproduction and Family. Milwood, NY: KTO Press.
Robinson, Tracy (2009). Authorised Sex: Same-Sex Sexuality and the Law in the Caribbean. In Barrow, Christine, de Bruin, Marjan, and Carr, Robert (Eds.), From Risk to Vulnerability: Power, Culture and Gender in the Spread of HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean, pp. 322. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Press.
Rubin, Vera (1978). Introduction. In Roberts, George and Sinclair, Sonja, Women in Jamaica: Patterns of Reproduction and Family, pp. xix–xxi. Milwood, NY: KTO Press.
Silbey, Susan S. (2005). After Legal Consciousness. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 1: 323368.
Simey, T. S. (1946). Welfare and Planning in the West Indies. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Smith, Michael G. (1962). West Indian Family Structure. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
Smith, Michael G. ([1966] 1999). Introduction. In Edith Clarke (1957), My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of the Families in Three Selected Communities of Jamaica, pp. xx–lvi. Kingston, Jamaica: The Press University of the West Indies.
Smith, Raymond T. (1956). The Negro Family in British Guiana: Family Structure and Social Status in the Villages. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Smith, Raymond T. (1963). Culture and Social Structure in the Caribbean: Some Recent Work on Family and Kinship Studies. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6(1): 2446.
Smith, Raymond T. ([1957] 1973). The Family in the Caribbean. In Comitas, L. and Lowenthal, D. (Eds.), West Indian Perspectives: Work and Family Life, pp. 351363. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.
Smith, Raymond T. (1988). Kinship and Class in the West Indies: A Genealogical Study of Jamaica and Guyana. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, Raymond T. (1996). The Matrifocal Family: Power, Pluralism and Politics. New York: Routledge.
Spillers, Hortense (1987). Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book. Diacritics, 17(2): 6481.
Stoler, Ann Laura (2002). Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Stycos, J. Malone and Back, Kurt (1964). The Control of Human Fertility in Jamaica. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Tambiah, Yasmin (2011). Threatening Sexual (Mis)Behavior: Homosexuality in the Penal Code Debates in Trinidad and Tobago, 1986. In Smith, Faith (Ed.), Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean, pp. 143146. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
Trinidad and Tobago (1948). Census of the Colony of Trinidad and Tobago 1946.
Trinidad and Tobago Cohabitational Relationships Act 1998, Chapter 45: 55, Revised Laws of Trinidad and Tobago 2006.
Trinidad and Tobago Domestic Violence Act 1999, Chap. 45: 56, Revised Laws of Trinidad and Tobago 2006.
West Indian Census (1948). West Indian Census 1946, Part 1.
Wilson, Peter (1969). Reputation and Respectability: A Suggestion for Caribbean Ethnology. Man, 4: 7084.
Wooding, Hugh (1968). A Collection of Addresses. Fraser, H. (Ed.). Trinidad and Tobago: Government Printing Office.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed