After Sugar: Plantation Persistence in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

Authors: Travis Bost*, University of Toronto
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Historical Geography
Keywords: plantations, Louisiana, historical geography, political economy, historical ethnography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The plantation persists. Geographers, developing upon McKittrick's (2013: 4) initial conceptual insight, have traced the persistence of the plantation as a logic, one which "folds over to repeat itself anew" in new spaces, practices, institutions, and territories. But, in addition to a logic, the plantation is also a set of material realities — of inherited landscapes, political and economic imperatives, and structures of governance — into and from which persistent logics flow. By what means do the plantation's material conditions also persist over time and into the present? In this paper, I examine the persistence of plantation conditions in one Louisiana parish in the moment of the historic sugar plantation economy's collapse. Despite the total withdrawal of plantation capital by the dominating foreign-owned sugar monopoly and the relinquishing of all estate lands in the 1910s, certain foundational conditions of plantation political economy — estate-based land monopolies, racialized extra-economic labor regimes, and export market dependency — persisted. These conditions not only undermined attempts at a diversified agrarian development path but also rearticulated in a new round of dependent export-oriented staple production under conditions nearly identical to the plantations. In addition to traditional archival sources, I examine the implications of these persistent conditions on everyday life in St. Bernard through a unique set of wry folk ballads maintained as part of local oral tradition among the once-and-again estate workers. These persistent plantation conditions, I conclude, worked to undermine efforts to free not only the land but also everyday life from plantation imperatives

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