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Creolization: Beyond a Concept, a Perpetual Construction of Identity

Visuel du billet de blogue Créolisation

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the “Concepts and Knowledge” project!

This initiative aims to highlight the value of the collection of research available on the platform, and focuses on the definition of notions and concepts around a central theme, using an educational approach to share this knowledge with a broader public. At a time of alternative facts and the multiplication of questionable sources, it is important to explore the challenges of our society by reading or rereading the analyses patiently developed by researchers. They are the result of many years of research, submitted and validated by the academic community before being published in scholarly journals. Thanks to open access, most of our collection is accessible to everyone. 

Identity is the project’s theme for 2022, and it is being coordinated by Michelle Edwige Jeanne Martineau, a PhD student in political science at the Université de Montréal. Now, get comfortable and read the first blog post in this series – an analysis of the questions around Creolization.


I call creolization the meeting, the interference, the shock, the harmony and the disharmony between cultures, in the realized totality of the Earth-World.

Édouard Glissant, Traité du Tout-Monde, 1997 (quote translated)


For several weeks now, the French West Indies (Guadeloupe and Martinique) have been the site of a major social crisis, which originated from the sanitary crisis and the refusal of mandatory vaccination of health-care workers.

But in the background, what we are seeing re-emerge are the ills of Guadeloupe society: precarity, massive unemployment, a young population with no prospects, etc. It is also the resurgence of the question of identity: after the adoption of the “Departmentalization Law” on March 19, 1946, and the political, economic, and social unrest that followed, numerous political actors have tried to propose a common identity that would help move away from French acculturation. Intellectuals in the West Indies have also contributed to the construction of this identity and the claims associated with it, thereby contributing to the fight against “this assimilationist policy” that remained a “form of silent colonialism” (Camara 2020).

Consequently, several ideas appeared which attempted to fill the gaps relating to issues around identity and how it was constructed in the French West Indies, and elsewhere around the world.

Négritude: An Anticolonialist Concept Promoting African Culture

Constituting a political, cultural, and literary movement, the concept of “négritude” appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. Influenced being the experience of maroons (runaway slaves) and the practice of voodoo, négritude as a concept would be expanded during the Afro-American cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. It is in the writing of W.E.B. DuBois, an African-American sociologist, that we find a first definition of négritude. He questioned the representation of the Black person, presented as a subhuman in a position of inferiority. Négritude as a concept aimed to give Black men their humanity back, and to extricate them from “racial discrimination” that was tied to economic, political, cultural and social discrimination.

These objectives were taken up again by Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Gontran-Damas around 1935. These men would be considered the “Founding Fathers,” a categorization which has to be nuanced: the concept of négritude also owes its existence to female thinkers who aimed to rethink the “masculine genealogy” of the concept. Contributions made by Suzanne Césaire (Aimé Césaire’s partner) and by the Nardal sisters (Paulette and Jeanne) which “gave a place of choice to the part Africa plays in the history of the Caribbeans” were essential to the intellectual project (Boni 2014). For example, the Nardal sisters organized a salon dedicated to “the awakening of Black consciousness” before the 1930s, creating an intellectual space with the “Revue du monde noir.” For her part, Suzanne Césaire was an inspiration for her spouse, Aimé, through the journal “Tropiques.” She established a dialogue with surrealism, to both achieve cultural liberation and hide political messages from censorship, thereby helping to further define the concept of négritude.

However, some thinkers contested the rigid and closed-in vision proposed by the concept, as it excluded other cultures that made up the cultural and identity landscape of the West Indies. For example, Wole Soyinka found the concept far too reductive. His response came in the concept of tigerness (tigritude): “The tiger does not proclaim its tigerness. It pounces on its prey and devours it.” It is in this context that the concept of creolization came to be.

Creolization: An “Infinite” And “Unpredictable” Process

Created in 1974 by Edward Kamau Brathwaite, a writer from Barbados, creolization is defined as a form of cultural hybridization that seeks to unite peoples, no matter the ethnic origin. Appearing in Caribbean Creole society, creolization is the process of constituting a composite identity that is without borders, having roots in Europe, Africa, India and other places. It led to the creation of a new and unique culture. Édouard Glissant pushed the intellectual process along in 1980 by expanding the concept of creolization to the West Indies: similar to the concept of a rhizomatic identity found in the works of Deleuze and Guattari, creolization is uncentered, appearing where dispersion and interbreeding of populations, ideas or even cultures occur.

To avoid the form of Afro-centric essentialist thinking that négritude entails, creolization attempts to establish relations not only with Africa, but also with America and Europe, “for the construction of a poetic language and for the exploration of the imaginary” in the literary world of the West Indies (Bernabé 1992). This hybrid quality manifests notably in the world of art by going beyond the borders of the Caribbean: the island of Réunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, serves as a typical example of creolization, notably in the practice of maloya, an ancestral Réunion tradition and the translation of the “dynamic interplay between the ‘local’ and the metropolis” (Ravi 2012).

A fusion of African, Malagasy, Indian and French traditions, maloya is a “particularly clear example of the processes of cultural creolization” which have occurred in the Réunion. However, creolization in the age of globalization has to contend with some problems, notably the issue of its integration into politics and of its operationalization, specifically the creation of a state or of a nation-state. The concept leaves “hanging the question of how a creolized society or a future creolized world might be politically organized” (Dorismond 2014).

Double Consciousness: The Definition of a “Dual Identity”

Beyond its definition, creolization is accompanied by the idea of “dual consciousness” proposed by W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Gilroy, which would allow politicians or even intellectuals to express the desire to “break free from the ties of ethnicity, of national identification and sometimes even of race” (Gilroy 2017 [1997], 58), in a post-colonial context. It is through the eyes of others that the idea of dual consciousness allows the Black man to know his Black identity and his existence within a dominated world.

Who am I? How do I identify? What are my origins? We have all asked ourselves those questions. Through cognitive criteria, this self-identification allows for a process of categorization in which the feeling of belonging to a group, a collective memory or even common projects become essential. The process of self-identification evolves throughout our lives, through social, professional, or personal interactions. Beyond those statements, the core of the reflection remains the notion of identity.

Identity, as Alain Maalouf said, “isn’t given once and for all, it is built and transforms throughout one’s existence.” In a moment where debates about identity are re-emerging, this text aimed to provide several keys to better understand the issues around identity in the French West Indies, which can also be useful to understanding identity in other parts of the world.


  • Bernabé, Jean «De la négritude à la créolité: éléments pour une approche comparée». Études françaises 28, no 2-3 (1992): 23–38.

This article analyzes the various strategies developed by intellectuals in the West Indies to study “créolité” (creolity). An idea that appeared after “antillanité” (West Indies-ity) and acting as a critique of négritude, the idea of “créolité” is part of the process of “anthropological construction” of West Indies culture and literature, and therefore, of a French West Indies identity. 

This article intends to deconstruct the “male genealogy” of the concept of negritude, which is often attributed to Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Gontran-Damas. The author emphasizes the importance of the intellectual contribution of the Nardal sisters as well as Suzanne Césaire (Aimé Césaire’s companion) in the emergence and development of the concept of negritude.

  • Camara, El Hadji «Les Antilles françaises et la départementalisation: de la domination “silencieuse” post-coloniale à l’aseptisation identitaire chez Édouard Glissant et Patrick Chamoiseau». Voix plurielles 17, no 2 (2020): 139–150.

The Departmentalization Law, passed on March 19, 1946, was presented in the French West Indies as the only way to maintain and expand democracy and to raise the standard of life of the population, while also muting any kind of identity crisis. However, intellectuals in the West Indies, such as Édouard Glissant, saw this “assimilationist policy” as a form of “silent colonialism that leads to the annihilation of the West Indian way of being,” through a process of alienation.

  • Ravi, Srilata «Musique populaire, métissage et identités culturelles: vers les recherches comparées». International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes no 45-46 (2012): 381–399.

This article explores the “complex relationships between forms of popular music and regional identities.” To make a comparison with the importance of popular music in the cultural heritage of Québec and the role it played in reinforcing its identity, the case of the Réunion, a French overseas department, is highlighted. Maloya is presented as a symbol of “Réunion-ity” (réunionnité) and the result of creolization in relation to French culture.

  • Glissant, Édouard. Traité du Tout-Monde. Éditions Gallimard, 1997.

The follow-up to the novel “Tout-Monde,” this essay expands his reflections around the concept of creolization and its expansion by mixing what is poetic and what is political.

  • Gilroy, Paul. L’Atlantique noire: modernité et double conscience. Éditions Amsterdam, 2017

Inspired by the writings of W.E.B. DuBois and Hegel, this book lets us “rethink in depth the way we think about the cultural history of the African diaspora, the result of the slave trade” by showing that there exists a “hybrid culture that is neither African, nor American, nor Caribbean, nor British,” but the result of a mixing of cultures.

  • Dorismond, Edelyn «Creolization of politics, Politics of Creolization: Thinking of an “unthought” in the work of Edouard Glissant». Sens public (2014).

This article highlights the ways in which the concept of creolization leaves unanswered the question of how a creolized society or a future creolized world might organize politically. Indeed, the impossibility of its integration and its operationalization into the world of politics can be explained by studying various ideas, such as “the State, the Nation-State, the Soil, the Homeland, or those of Culture and Identity.”

Biography of Suzanne Césaire.