Small axe

Title Small axe: a Caribbean journal of criticism
Location Durham
Publisher Duke Univeristy Press
Periodicity Thrice a year
ISSN 0799-0537
URL Small axe website
Published Since 1997-
Indexed Holdings 2012-


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Periodical's Overview

"If you are a big tree, we are a small axe. As this Jamaican proverb, one with wide Caribbean resonance (and famously popularized by Bob Marley), suggests, a “small axe” is an instrument of criticism. This is what the Small Axe Project is: a Caribbean platform for social, political, and cultural criticism. Our aim is to engage existing practices of criticism in and on the regional and diasporic Caribbean, as a way, not simply of dismissing them, but of better understanding their sources and their uses, their yield as much as their limits, so as to gauge whether or to what extent their aims and motivations might be revised and expanded.

In this way, the Small Axe Project seeks both to acknowledge an intellectual tradition of social, political, and cultural criticism in and about the regional and diasporic Caribbean, and to quarrel with it. This is because, in our view, it is only in and through such quarrels that an intellectual tradition can renew itself, can at once retain and re-invigorate its vitality. The Small Axe Project aims to provide a platform for the rethinking this entails. We aim to enable an informed and sustained debate about the present we inhabit, its political and cultural contours, its historical conditions and global context, and the critical languages in which change can be thought and alternatives reimagined. Such a debate, we would insist, is not the prerogative of any one genre, and therefore we invite nonfiction as well as fiction, poetry, interviews, visual art, and discussion pieces.

The Small Axe Project consists principally of two publishing platforms: Small Axe and sx salon."[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • African diaspora
  • Bahamian poetry
  • Caribbean literature (French) - history and criticism
  • Chinese - Jamaica
  • Civil disobedience - Caribbean Area
  • Colonialism in literature
  • Dancehall (music ) - history and criticism
  • Dictators - Dominican Republic
  • Hall, Stuart (1932-2014) - homages
  • Homophobia - Jamaica
  • Indentured servants - Guyana
  • Languages in contact - Caribbean Area
  • Literary criticism - West Indies
  • Literature, Experimental - Jamaica
  • Psychoanalysis and colonialism - West Indies
  • Racism - Europe
  • Slavery - Great Britain - history
  • Sugar workers - Cuba
  • Universalism (philosophy) - debates, etc.
  • Vernacular architecture - Caribbean Area


In David Scott’s text of address at the Stuart Hall Memorial in London, he made an interesting argument with the intention to nuance the perception that Hall’s story “began with the moment of his arrival in England;” Scott argued that “for me, anyway, as I keep repeating, the story of Stuart Hall has another beginning--namely, the moment of his departure from Jamaica.”[2]

Scott is the founder and editor of Small axe, and we point out to this particular perception of his as it provides a significant clue to what we consider to be a remarkable intellectual adventure, an adventure running now for almost two decades. With Scott’s insistence that we consider Hall’s Jamaican experience previous to his arrival to England, he’s somehow making a case for what appears to be Small axe’s intellectual project, which set out to ‘provide a forum for rethinking many of the conceptions that guided the formation of Caribbean modernities - conceptions of class, gender, nation, culture, and race, for example - and provides an informed and sustained debate about the present, its political and cultural contours, its historical conditions and global content, and the critical languages in which change can be thought and alternatives re-imagined.”[3]

Scott defines the Caribbean “as a geopolitical area of the intellectual imagination, an object of intellectual history;”[4] his definition is helpful to shore up what one might encounter when reading Small axe: a rigorous journal of intellectual debate and criticism, but focused too in diffusing fiction, poetry and visual arts stemming from that cauldron of creativity that is the Caribbean area. Small Axe uses the word “modernities” in their introductory text, and if there’s one feature characterizing the Caribbean is its stunning heterogeneity and exuberant polyglossia; given this complexity, Small axe sets out to elucidate the area’s postcolonial predicament and the varied historical forces that shaped it.

The journal publishes in-depth essays and articles on a variety of topics--from the legacies of British slavery and the plantation system to the current predicament of lesbians in Jamaica, from special issues on reparations for historical injustices to measured analysis of historiographical approaches to the Caribbean study; but its emphasis is in unearthing, rethinking and reassessing a thought tradition which oftimes gets flattened out as many of the academics and thinkers from the area had to migrate to the metropolis, as is the case with both Hall and Scott. So, intellectual antecedents are important and to these ample space is dedicated: revisiting C.L.R. James’ Black Jacobins, paying homage to Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s or Stuart Hall’s legacies, assessing Kamau Brathwaite’s and Savacou’s contribution to the Caribbean discourse and culture,[5] interviews with significant figures like Orlando Patterson, and so on. Their book reviews section also attest to the journal’s rigorousness, providing an extended and unusual forum for discussion of ideas and books.

Although the focus is mostly sociological, historical and anthropological, what makes Small axe even more compelling to the reader is their focus on literature and the visual arts; articles on dub poetry are combined with analyses of Derek Walcott’s oeuvre, from Puerto Rican Eduardo Lalo's works to Marie Chauvet’s Haitian “theatrical poetics and politics,” from Brathwaite to Wilson Harris to George Lamming, from Édouard Glissant to Patrick Chamoiseau to Maryse Condé, the embarrassment of riches is astounding. Not only does the journal offer precise scholarly essays on these and other authors, but similarly to Savacou, they foster younger generations by publishing lushly illustrated artists’ pages, short stories and poetry, these under the auspices of the journal's literary competition.

From this heady mixture of contents, Small axe’s project emerges as an invaluable vehicle to understand this “geopolitical area of the intellectual imagination,” the Caribbean; since the 1980s, terms like “translation,” “creolization,” and “hybridity” were conceptual tools used by the most advanced discourses on identity, and as such, the Caribbean has proven instrumental in providing a template from which to understand the complexities stirred worldwide by modernity, and in particular, in our current postcolonial condition. Small axe provides a thoughtful and much needed continuation to those projects, bringing to the mix the voices from the islands, and obliquely making a case that perhaps we are all, irrevocably, “translated humans.”[6]

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[1]From Small axe’s website.

[2]The address was delivered at The Light, Friends House, London, 29 November 2014, and published in Small axe in March 2015. David Scott. “The fact of noncorrespondence,” Small axe (Durham), no. 46 (March 2015): 1.

[3]Project, Small axe website.

[4]David Scott. “On the question of Caribbean studies,” Small axe (Durham), no. 41 (July 2013): 1.

[5]Savacou was a journal of literature, new writing and ideas founded in 1970; it grew out of The Caribbean Artists Movement, and led by Edward Kamau Brathwaite. ccindex continues to index Savacou’s complete run. Please log in into the database to peruse the already indexed contents. Infoweb record forthcoming.

[6]Keeping in mind that Stuart Hall’s specific words were written on black identities, given the current state of affairs we dare to suggest that his words could also be extrapolated to describe our prevailing globalized predicament as humans: “[….] the product of several interlocking histories and cultures …. peoples belonging to such cultures of hybridity had to renounce to the dream or ambition of rediscovering any kind of “lost” cultural purity, or ethnic absolutism. They are irrevocably translated.” Stuart Hall. “The question of cultural identity.” In Modernity and its futures. Ed. by Stuart Hall, David Held, and Anthony G. McGrew. Cambridge: Polity, 1992: 310.