Based on periodic ethnographic fieldwork over a span of fifteen years, Martinez shows how impoverished plantation dwellers find ways of coping with the alienation that would be expected while laboring to produce goods for the richer countries. Despite living in dire poverty, these workers live in a thoroughly commodified social environment. Ritual, eroticism, electronic media, household adornment, payday-weekend "binging" are ways even chronically poor plantation residents dream beyond reality. Yet plantation residents' efforts to live decently and escape from the dead hand of necessity also deepen existing divisions of ethnic identity and status. As the divide between "haves" and "have-nots" worsens as a result of neoliberal reform and the decline of sugar in international markets, this book reveals on an intensely human scale the coarsening of the social fabric of this and other communities of the world's poorer nations.
"Decency and Excess is a plantation ethnography comparable in terms of richness of observational detail with some of the best examples of this genre... Martinez traces the contours of a fresh and potentially highly significant critique of capitalism emerging from an unexpected location: that of an eroticization of waste, rather than the fetishization of objectified value. Decency and Excess presents considerable challenges that will be noted not just in Caribbean studies but the anthropology of material culture and consumption, and one would hope in the discipline at large."Dr. Stephan Palmie, University of Chicago."Finely tuned to meaning and materiality, to everyday practices and global processes, Martinez has made a prescient, masterful case for the return of political economy, back from its banishment to the margins of anthropological theory."Prof. Charles R. Hale, President, Latin American Studies Association (May 2006-October 2007) and Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin.