10 – 12 April 2018
Call for Contributions – Summer School in Mauritius
Between Slavery and Post-slavery
Citizenship, Dependence, and Abolitionism in African and Indian Ocean Societies
In October 2014, the international conference Slavery in Africa: Past, Legacies and Present (SLAFCO) was held at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) in Nairobi. This three-day conference brought together over sixty scholars from all over the world and representatives of African anti-slavery NGOs and civil society organizations.
Building on this first experience of exchange between researchers and activists, ‘Between Slavery and Post-Slavery’ will focus on (1) the recent legacies of past slavery; (2) contemporary forms of exploitation akin to slavery; and (3) the political mobilisation of African grassroots activists and politicians in various countries in Africa and in Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean islands.
(1) Legacies of past slavery: This workshop will explore the political and social marginalization of persons of slave descent in different African societies today. In some contexts, groups of slave descendants are classified, collectively, through labels that indicate slave origins in particular African languages. These labels have derogatory connotations and are often accompanied by ideas about the sociocultural and biogenetic inferiority of those classified as slave descendants. These groups suffer from specific vulnerabilities ranging from political exclusion and ‘second-class citizenship’, to economic exploitation and restricted opportunities for social mobility, to increased exposure to violence and exactions. Contributions focused on slave descent will study identity-based discrimination: what forms it takes and what responses it elicits in terms of resistance and grassroots activism.
(2) Slavery today: A second strand of phenomena examined here is the resilience of actual slavery, as an institution that enables control tantamount to possession over those enslaved. In spite of worldwide legal abolition, slavery has not ended. In the African continent illegal enslavement takes different forms. It can be a consequence of discrimination based on slave descent in areas where erstwhile slave-owners retained power and slave descendants remained vulnerable to extreme forms of exploitation. But slavery does not affect only persons of slave descent. Like elsewhere in the world, in Africa too, there is a persistent demand for cheap and easily controllable labour and exploitable persons. Human trafficking, especially in women and children, is well documented in different African regions and between Africa and other countries. Furthermore, recent African wars resulted in abductions and violence directed against civilians, primarily women, leading to the prosecution of perpetrators for crimes of sexual slavery. Some political movements, such as Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, openly advocate the legitimacy of slavery as an institution. Contributions focused on slavery will consider its manifestations, discourses about slavery’s (il)legitimacy, and the resistance of those enslaved or at risk of enslavement.
(3) African anti-slavery movements and grassroots activism: A third axis for reflection and discussion will focus on African anti-slavery NGOs and forms of political mobilization against slavery and the discrimination targeted at slave descendants. Some researchers described African anti-slavery NGOs as phenomena of extraversion, aimed at accessing international funding through links with ‘Western’ anti-slavery organisations. But African abolitionist movements are diverse. Some engage more with national politics than with international donors, as in the case of the Zoam Marxist movement founded by Malagasy slave descendants in the 1970s. Undoubtedly some of the main African anti-slavery NGOs benefit from the support of international anti-slavery organisations. But this does not make their struggles any less ‘real’. Their membership and opposition are national and local. Hence the question is not only whether the agenda of African anti-slavery NGOs chimes with the goals of global anti-slavery organisations: it clearly does. More specifically, we invite contributions that explore the meanings and functions of abolitionism in Africa today; the challenges identified by the leaders and grassroots members of these organisations, their driving ideas and political strategies.
Slave descent, post-slavery, and classificatory slavery:
- Following legal abolition, what were the opportunities available to different groups of enslaved persons in different African regions and contexts?
- What strategies did different categories of slave descendants unfold, and why?
- How, if at all, did relations between former slaves and slave-owners change?
- Why are certain groups classified as coming ‘from slavery’, with what consequences, and giving rise to what forms of resistance and/or identity politics?
- How was slavery, as an institution, transformed following legal abolition? What forms of labour replaced slave labour? How were the roles of slaves in sexual, reproductive, and domestic domains reconfigured?
- What types of slavery, if any, exist in contemporary African societies? What groups are involved? How do war and conflict influence practices of enslavement?
- What forms of resistance, and by which actors, does contemporary slavery gives rise to?
- How does the international definition of slavery, based on the 1926 Slavery Convention of the League of Nations, relate to contemporary African phenomena and national legislations?
- How is slavery defined and characterised in contexts marked by legal pluralism?
- Who, if anyone, defends the legitimacy of slavery today, through which arguments, and with what practical consequences?
African anti-slavery movements, neo-abolitionism, and grassroots activism:
- What forms does abolitionism take in Africa today, what practices does it give rise to, and what are the ideological roots of different African abolitionist discourses?
- What are the main forms of anti-slavery advocacy in Africa today (e.g. national and international NGOs, political parties, grassroots movements, religious associations, etc.)?
- Who becomes a member of African anti-slavery movements and why?
- What challenges does African anti-slavery activism face and why?
- How, if at all, do African abolitionist movements differ from those of African diasporas in Europe and the Americas?
The organizers Vijaya Teelock (University of Mauritius) and Benedetta Rossi (University of Birmingham) welcome submissions of abstracts on the themes and questions above. We regret that we cannot provide funding for participants external to the SLAFNET Project.
Please send your submission by email to Benedetta Rossi at firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 September 2017.
Submissions should include: title, abstract of 300-500 words, presenter’s name, institutional affiliation, and contact information.
The selection committee will make a decision on the retained abstracts by 30 October 2017.