Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labour

Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labour

Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labour

Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labour


Bringing together normally self-contained areas of research, this book presents penetrating analyses of the nature and perpetuation of slavery through the ages.


The papers in this book are the result of a two-day workshop held in Oxford in April 1985 under the auspices of the History Workshop Centre for Social History. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together a wide variety of papers under the umbrella title ‘Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labour’. The formal notice to prospective speakers read:

The intention is for it to be an interdisciplinary event, treating slavery in its broadest definition, within any culture and from any period (ancient and modern); to seek definitions of ‘slavery’; and to encourage a cross-fertilisation of ideas, and bring together usually isolated disciplines and areas of research.

The desire to make the meeting interdisciplinary was central to the whole project: not only was it hoped to bring together normally self-contained areas of research and encourage that exchange of ideas out-lined in the brief, it was also hoped that the interdisciplinary character would be a means of opening up and moving forward the current debate in respect of slavery. Speakers at the workshop therefore included social anthropologists; economic, social and legal historians; psychologists; artists; literature and drama critics; and sociologists; together with a representative from a contemporary slavery abolition society and a researcher from Oxfam.

Some of the contributors were attached full time to academic institutions, others worked outside of the formal academy; some had already published extensively in their own fields, others were at the start of their writing career or not especially interested in publication; all brought a diversity of interests and skills to the meeting. Talks included specific case studies; general methodological discussions; work on women’s history and oral history; cross-cultural material on the social and political construction of ideology; critiques of Marx, Engels, Genovese and Foucault; and suggestions in general as to new ways of looking at slavery. Speakers from the various disciplines addressed the wider (and shared) theoretical implications of slavery, and questioned the traditionally accepted and often over-worked notions and paradigms.

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