Indentured labor and the integration of Trinidad into the world economy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Agnew


Indentured labor, Trinidad, World economy, Globalization

Subject Categories

European History | History | Human Geography | International and Area Studies | Labor Economics


Between 1845 and 1917, over 148,000 people from India migrated to the tiny British West Indies colony of Trinidad as indentured laborers. The objective of this research is to establish whether or not a relationship existed between East Indian indentureship and the integration of Trinidad into the world economy and, if so, to empirically demonstrate the nature of that relationship. It shows geographically how Trinidad's local and regional 'space' expanded into a transatlantic one and, later, a larger spatial system. During its integration, Trinidad moved from a dependence to entrapment in the world economy.

Labor was found to be a major element whether or not, when and how such an integration occurs. As part of the analysis, three Trinidadian timeframes are constructed: one prior to indentureship, one during indentureship and the one emerging when it ended. This comparative approach shows that there was a connection between settlement patterns, sugar and East Indian indentureship. It demonstrates how sugar production levels, estate consolidation, technological modernization and labor configuration were dialectically related and changed through time. Attention is also given to the flow of investment capital, the emergence of the multinational enterprises, and changes in imperial sugar politics.

By focusing on labor and using a dialectic approach situated along a global/local nexus it is possible to show how large- and small-scale forces converged in Trinidad and how 'agency' was manifested and how it was constrained by the 'marco-order.' This approach demonstrates how the integration plays out in a particular place and across space. It shows changes in world, regional and local economies, and offers a glimpse of economic patterns, structures, emerging structures and process.

In conclusion, although this study is about a commodity and its relation to labor, another objective is to produce a locally sensitive research while addressing a larger picture by using a narrative approach well supported by statistical data. Perhaps, also, it will raise questions regarding the nature of British indentureship in the transatlantic world. This study positions Trinidad within this long-term process and proves that preconceived notions regarding East Indian indentureship are not supported by the evidence.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.