Plural Society - panchu

Plural Society
Many of the societies which have problems of multicultural governance are
former multi-ethnic colonies. A theory of such colonial and post-colonial societies
draws particularly on the work of J.S.Furnivall and M.G.Smith.
According to Furnivall different ethnic groups in a plural society meet only in the
market place. This market place however lacks the characteristics which
Durkheim envisaged in his concept of organic solidarity. It lacks the shared
values which organic solidarity requires and involves brutal conflict and
exploitation. The sense of solidarity on which morality depends is to be found
within the different ethnic groups when they go home from the market place.
Within these groups there is intense solidarity and moral unity.
Furnivall worked in Burma but wrote about Java drawing on the work of the
Dutch economic theorist, Boeke. Boeke writes that in the economy of
Netherlands India “there is a materialism, rationalism and individualism and a
concentration on economic ends far more complete and absolute than in
homogeneous Western lands” As he sees it this is a capitalism quite different
from that which grew slowly over hundreds of years and maintained its moral
roots. M.G..Smith wrote originally about Grenada but his theory of the plural
society has been widely used in the analysis of colonial and post-colonial
societies in the Caribbean. Smith is aware of the general sociological theory of
Talcott Parsons and its assumption of four mutually supportive institutions. In the
Caribbean, however he argues that there are several co-existing ethnic groups
each of which has a nearly complete set of social institutions. Setting his
argument within the context of a review of social anthropological theories used in
studying the Caribbean, he sees the various ethnic groups as having their own
family systems, there own productive economies, their own languages and
religion but not their own political system. In the political sphere they are all
controlled by one dominant segment... To put this in more concrete terms Blacks
are descended from Slaves, Indians from indentured labourers. The groups have
remained distinct and have their own institutions. They exist however politically
under the domination of an outside power. Thus the defining feature of a plural
society is seen as this process of the domination of all ethnic groups by the
colonial power. New problems arise when the colonial power withdraws.
Whereas Furnivall sees the different ethnic groups as bound together by the
economic fact of the market place, Smith sees them as bound together by a
political institution, the colonial state.
One crucial institution in the Caribbean was the slave plantation. The history of
plantations is traced by Max Weber in his General Economic History to the
manor. But the Caribbean slave plantation comes into existence when capitalism
directs horticultural production to the market. Similar developments occur in
mining. M.G Smith’s theory has to take account of this. In fact he sees the
plantation as one form of political institution.
M.G.Smith collaborated with the South African, Leo Kuper in producing a series
of essays on Africa and also turned his attention to the United States in his book
Corporations and Society, The case of South Africa is of special interest calling
for an analysis of a society based upon rural labour migrating to the gold mines.
The United States has developed as neither homogeneous nor plural but
Smith has to deal with the question of social class. This is easy enough for he
has only to say that each group has its own internal class structure. He does,
however, have to compare his own theory to that of Marx. He cannot accept that
group formation occurs between those having the same or different relations to
the means of production, nor that “in the social production of the means of life
men enter into circumstances which are independent of their will” For Smith the
culture of ethnic groups in a plural society is not simply determined in this way.
The plural segments in colonial society operate according to a different dynamic
which it is the purpose of Plural Society theory to explain.
Rex has attempted to set out a theory of the plural society which does justice to
Marxian and other theories as well as those of Smith. This involves first of all
recognizing that such societies go though several phases of development, precolonial, colonial and post colonial. In the colonial phase relations to the means
of production are important, even though they are more varied than Marxist
categories suggest involving such structures as the encomienda in Spanish
America. At the same time however groups have a relationship to each other
reminiscent of the mediaeval estate system in Europe different groups having the
cultures, rights and privileges which attach to their function. In the post-colonial
phase there would be according to this theory a number of developments. One
would be the subordination of peasants to the large estates or latitudinal, a
second would be the replacement of the former colonial power by a group able to
take over its powers, a third would be a change in which new primarily economic
centres replaced the colonial power, and so far as resistance and struggle within
the new system is concerned
Fanonism laying emphasis upon the national struggle would take precedence
over class struggle.
The application of plural society theory to capitalist societies based upon mining
produces a different set of problems. There rural agricultural reserves are
expected to provide social back-up so that males of working age can live in
segregated compounds or locations and be intensively exploited. This is a
situation very much like that described by Furnivall.
Boeke J, .H. “De Economische Theorie der Dualistiche Saamleving” quoted by
Furnivall Op.cit p452.
Durkheim, E., (1933), The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press, Glencoe
Furnivall, J. S., (1939) Netherlands India, Cambridge University Press,
Rex, J., (1981), “A Working Paradigm for Race Relations Research” Ethnic and
Racial Studies, Vol 4 No 1 pp1-25
Smith, M, G., (1965), The Plural Society in the British West Indies, University of
California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Smith, M.G., (1964), Corporations and Society, Duckworth, London,
Smith, M., G., and Kuper, L., (1969), Pluralism in Africa, University of California
Press Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Weber, M., (1961) General Economic History, Collier Books, New York.