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Colonial Identities and the Sociedad de Castas

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Stuart B. Schwartz in his work Colonial Identities and the Sociedad de Castas emphasizes such concepts as “race” and “class” tracing their functional influences on the multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies of colonial Latin America. Also, the researcher makes attempts to both detect possible changes in respect of the aforementioned phenomena and investigate the direct causes of such changes. To the author’s point of view, most of researchers strive to measure the motifs and changes regarding the multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies by accentuating on the institute of marriage or sexual unions.

In other words, the unions of endogamy or exogamy are frequently investigated in order to answer the aforesaid question. Contrary to other scholars, Schwartz is disposed to think that the concept of “sociedad de castas” as well as the society of orders has been a juridical and ideological constituent which makes impact on marriage, work and other integral parts of social life while constructing an interweaving part of it as well. According to Swartz, an intensifying concern with issues of identity and social definition proves the reliability of the aforementioned approach. Thus, a wide range of researchers convict that the racial category of “sociedad de castas” is not utterly dependent on the biological criterion but also embodies specific social designators. In addition, the term caste should be apprehended as a biologically social entity solidified by various life experiences including baptism, marriage and living arrangements.

Also, a mental note should be made that the colonial polity has often granted peculiar privileges and statuses to certain groups of people. In view of the above, it is possible to presume that many people are reluctant to disclose their true biological identity in order to either occupy or retain particular positions in the colonial society. Hence, the representatives of different castes should not be differentiated solely on the biological grounds.  Moreover, Schwartz states that analysis of the castes’ system not as a fixed structure but as a historical process brings no ubiquitous knowledge. To the author’s point of view, not marriages but unions with Indian women have given birth to a generation of mestizo children accepted as Spaniards. Such unions have been considered manifestations of both passion and strategy. In accordance with Schwartz’s narration, the idea of lineage being dependent on “blood” plays a very crucial role in discerning between various castes.

Apart from the above, the researcher seeks to investigate whether the multi-ethnic societies of colonial Latin America have been organized by “racial principles” as well. As far as the notion of legitimacy is concerned, it should be conceded that the colonial society incorporates legitimacy and recognition as the significant factors. Nevertheless, the impact of legitimacy and recognition on the issue of “race”, and vice versa, is undisclosed. As the foregoing discussion must suggest, legitimacy and recognition have obviously been the primary markers for the first generations. However, in Spanish American centers by 1560 the social status of mestizos within colonial society has been diminished due to a sequence of local, demographic and historical circumstances.

As far as the concept of race is concerned, it should be asserted that the demography is represented as a fairly important factor for the first generation of multi-ethnic societies in colonial Latin America. According to Schwartz, Spanish have given preference to marriages with European women when available. Otherwise, Spaniards have accepted mestizas as Europeans or members of aboriginal noble and ruling families. At any rate, Spanish people have preferred mestizas to Indians. Therefore, it should be supposed that the factor of race remains, in Schwartz’s opinion, the most advantageous way to understand the patterns of multi-ethnic societies in colonial Latin America.

In the final analysis, the author suggests that the factor of gender has genuinely affected the functioning of colonial society in Latin America by means of controlling and representing the sexuality and domestic arrangements as undeniable parts of the Spanish governance; but the aforesaid factor should not be apprehended as an independent variable

  After everything has been given due consideration, it is possible to outline the chief strengths and limitations of the analyzed study. In this connection, it should be asserted that the study’s benefits are the following:

  1. The author endeavors to juxtapose the “sociedad de castas” with juridical and ideological system of society which has the direct nexus with marriage, work and other forms of social subsistence. It should be agreed that the colonial society with various hierarchies within it may be comprehended through analysis of its values, perceptual identities and ideology. Therefore, it is possible to claim that the correlation between different castes in colonial Latin America has been driven by particular social values, perceptual identities and ideological fundamentals.
  2. Schwartz discusses professor Kuznesof’s approach based on the thesis that the determination of race is substantially motivated by gender. The issue of gender is also elucidated by Jesus F. de la Teja and Ross Frank who purport that Spanish colonizers have made use of their social control theory and practice designed to enforce conformity to “idealized gender”.
  3. Another benefit of Schwartz’s research lies in stating that the early contacts between Europeans and aboriginal peoples and the treatment of their offspring are the most significant preconditions to the systems of hierarchy. In view of the aforesaid judgment, it should be implied that both knowledge and experience of multi-cultural interactions have truly incited Spanish colonizers to maintain their dominance with the help of “sociedad de castas”.  
  4. The author has managed to explain that a race or ethnicity should not be apprehended as a caste itself. He has demonstrated how the social position of various peoples including mestizos and creoles has been constantly changed due to various factors.
  5. Schwartz argues that the issue of gender is utterly dependent on a particular race and does not solely affect the “sociedad de castas”. In other words, a representative of a particular gender may change the caste only if his racial status allows him to do so.

Furthermore, it might be relevant to ascertain that Schwartz’s study has a number of limitations as well. They are the following:

  1. Stuart B. Schwartz takes into account primarily investigations of professor Kuznesof. The author’s exclusive emphasis on critical analysis of Kuznesof’s approach makes his study less substantiated and reliable.
  2. The author of Colonial Identities and the Sociedad de Castas has failed to elaborate on the issues of legitimacy and social responsibilities of castes’ representatives.

Apart from the above, it should be stated that there are several issues in the domain of multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies of colonial Latin America than need to be investigated further. The first problem includes the question of identity and determination. In this connection, it is proposed to examine how various ethnic groups being controlled in the frames of the “sociedad de castas” have personally identified their social statuses. Also, it should be detected whether the peoples’ aspirations to self-determination and independence have ever shaped the “sociedad de castas”. The second problem involves the matter of race and its social components because Schwartz has failed to elucidate the concept of race as the social phenomenon. The third issue that needs to be clarified is the concept of marriage and its influence on the “sociedad de castas”. According to Frank Salomon, marriage constitutes an integral part of the native societies’ political economy.

In the final analysis, it is possible to lead to a conclusion that Schwartz’s study of racial and class determinants facilitates the understanding of the colonial world and its system of complex relationships which is called the “sociedad de castas”.

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