Even today, the boundary remains a key concept in the anthropology of identity, following the late Fredrik Barth’s seminal work, notably in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Barth showed, famously, how ideas and concepts, practices and even people could cross boundaries without threatening their integrity.
In recent decades, the boundary itself has nevertheless become a privileged site for anthropologial theorising and research. In symbolic or cultural anthropology, an influential tendency interrogates the nature/culture boundary; in current studies of urban life, Vertovec’s term super-diversity has made itself useful, and so on. This talk explores a different kind of boundary, or perhaps non-boundary, by looking at a social identity formation which eschews boundaries, embraces impurities and celebrates openness: Can the post-slavery peoples commonly known as Creoles be considered ethnic groups at all, or do they represent a social form unbeknownst to and incompatible with a social anthropology assuming that groups need boundaries in order to perpetuate themselves? Some implications for, and dilemmas of, cosmopolitanism will emerge from the talk, which draws on examples from the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.