Dr Kate Quinn, University College London

 

When Britain departed its colonies in the Caribbean it left in place political institutions and norms based on the Westminster model of government. Early analyses drew mainly positive conclusions about the effectiveness of the Westminster model in producing stable democratic states in the region, in contrast to other ex-colonial states in Africa and Asia. But in the last two decades, the Caribbean has experienced radical changes which bring into question the optimistic assessments of the early scholarship. Globalisation, the drugs trade, rising crime levels and the economic downturn are undermining the foundations of democracy in the Caribbean.

 

The Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges network brings together academics (from history, politics, development) and non-academics (NGOs, think tanks, policy-makers) to address the urgent need for new analysis of how the Westminster model has functioned in the post-independence Caribbean. The central aims of the research are: 1) To reassess how the political model inherited from Britain was adapted to the conditions of the Caribbean; its impact on Caribbean democracy; and the challenges the model has faced over the period of independence; 2) To advance earlier research by extending the time-frame under review, adopting a multi-disciplinary and comparative approach and examining the substantive as well as formal dimensions of democracy in the region; and 3) To reflect on and contribute to current critical debates on the evolution and perceived decline of democracy in the region as it prepares to mark 50 years of independence.

 

Three major conferences will address different strands of research on adaptations, critiques and reformations of the Westminster model in the Caribbean. How have the different histories of colonisation, size, populations and ethnic demographics affected the nature and impact of the Westminster model in different countries? What role has the model played in distortions of democracy in the post-independence period? What alternative political systems have been developed within the Caribbean, in theory and in practice? Does the failure of radical alternatives (eg. the 1979 Grenada Revolution) testify to the legitimacy and robustness of the Westminster system in the Caribbean? Can the model withstand the “existential threats” of the present day? Given the small number and scattered location of scholars of the modern Caribbean in the UK, such research could only be achieved through collaboration with the larger community of scholars in the Caribbean and North America. The network will facilitate new interactions within the UK and abroad, new links across disciplines, and a forum for the exchange of ideas benefitting both academic and non-academic participants. The latter (NGOs, think tanks and policy-makers involved in governance in the region) will be involved in the network at all stages and will help shape the research agenda and outputs.

 

The network forges new links with the University of the West Indies, the Commonwealth Democracy Network and the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. In advancing understanding of democracy in post-colonial states, the legacies of European imperialism and theories of small states, the network will both contribute to scholarship and feed into policy debates in the region today. The research will be disseminated widely via a range of outputs including a webpage, conference papers and reports, edited volumes and a special edition of a journal. A major output will be the development of an online Caribbean Democracy Bibliography, providing a lasting and valuable research tool for students, scholars and the public. The network will continue beyond the life of the grant and will lay the foundations for larger projects including applications to fund a doctorate in post-independence Caribbean political history and a post-doctorate to build a new digital resource base of primary sources on Westminster in the Caribbean.

 

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