What I Did This Summer: French Professor Hanétha Vété-Congolo

Associate Professor of Romance Languages Hanétha Vété-Congolo tells us about her summer researching gender and society in her native Martinique:

Hanétha Vete-Congolo

Once again I have had a very productive summer, during which I traveled to the Caribbean country of Martinique to continue field work undertaken a few years ago. Martinique is a French- and Creole- speaking country of fewer than 400,000 inhabitants. It is highly striking in many ways and prominent in the realm of postcolonial studies since it is the homeland of many key postcolonial thinkers such as Aimé Césaire, René Ménil, Frantz Fanon and Edouard Glissant.

This is a country that sprang out of two profoundly destructive systems, colonization and slavery, whose legacies continue to create many philosophical, social and political challenges and problems among the country’s critical constituents.

That fact raises epistemological questions whose answers will potentially help illuminate the society under study, highlight some cultural specificities and point to factors favoring or impeding societal growth. Some of the questions are: What role do colonization and slavery play in the psychocultural conformation that brings Martiniquan men and women to produce the tools that structure their society? To what extent are these tools agents of self- and collective development? What are the paradigms and mechanisms, generated by the two systems in question, that influence men’s and women’s interactive relationships?

So, I have been reflecting upon and researching gender issues as posed in the contemporary Martiniquan society and as tied to racial, historical, sociological, political and anthropological parameters. I have granted a special attention to the female gender as it is pervasively put forth in this society: in Martinique, a profusion of frequently heard songs and sayings assert that women are doubout – Creole for “upright” – and possess a fortitude not present in men. From this, I have conceived the idea of “douboutism,” which proposes a critical examination of this noteworthy stance on gender.

To foster discussions on how interactions between Afro-descent men and women could possibly inform contemporary initiatives, sociopolitical change, and psychosocial change in the Martiniquan society, I have used multiple research methodologies as well as different theoretical frameworks from the humanities and the social sciences. This summer, my activities included doing work on the ground observing, listening to and interviewing informants of all ages and socioeconomic groups. I also spent much of my time working at the “Archives départementales,” which proved to be very enlightening.

Over the years and this year again, my research in Martinique has helped me to amass a sum of critical material that encourages me to envision a fruitful conclusion to this work.

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