Slavery and 'Lesser' Servitudes: Separate and Stratified or Blended Together?

Monday, 29 October, 2012 - 15:00

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Every country in the world has now legally abolished slavery, yet millions of people continue to be trapped in forms of human bondage which are widely regarded as similar and/or equivalent to abusive conditions under historical slave systems. On what terms can these comparisons between past and present be justified? On what basis can contemporary experiences be credibly classified as ‘slavery’? Drawing upon a combination of legal analysis and historical reflection, this paper develops a new approach to this question by specifically focusing upon points of intersection between slavery and other forms of human bondage, such as forced labor, debt-bondage, and human trafficking. Historians of slavery and abolition have generally approached these points of intersection in one of two main ways. One approach treats slavery as a separate and stratified category, whilst a second argues that slavery has tended to regularly overlap with other forms of bondage, thereby complicating the notion of hard and fast boundaries between categories. While insights from both approaches have contemporary applications, this paper aims to demonstrate that the ‘blended together’ framework should be preferred on a combination of historical, sociological and legal grounds.

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