SWAB - Shadows of Slavery in West Africa and Beyond. A Historical Anthropology
Shadows of Slavery in West Africa and Beyond. A Historical Anthropology
Reference ERC-2012-StG Grant #313737
(Promoter) – HI University of Milan - Bicocca
PI: Alice Bellagamba
Budget- 935,100 €
Start date - 01/05/2013
End date - 30/04/2018
Objectives and results
Though the colonial abolition of West African slavery and the slave trade is well researched, the aftermath of slavery still deserves attention.
What does it mean to be of slave descent today?
How do the legacy of slavery and the slave trade overlap with harsh contemporary forms of marginality and exploitation?
Moreover, what do we see when these questions are raised in a much broader comparative perspective?
This project looks at the follow up of the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, a global process that invested the world at different times with a rich and complex variety of outcomes. Most historical research has stopped at the early colonial period, a very well documented phase of world history. Here, the analysis expands up to the present, and beyond the boundaries of West African studies. Four regions of the world, which are under scrutiny for trafficking and contemporary slavery, will be studied comparatively. These are Eastern Senegal (West-Africa), Libya (North Africa), Coastal Madagascar (Indian Ocean), and North Afghanistan (Central Asia). The ambition is to link the micro-study of lived experience, cultural meanings, and practices with the analysis of linkages and broader historical processes. To get results, there is need of a dialogue with human rights, legal theory, studies of gender and racial discrimination as well as scholarly insights on globalization and neo-liberalism.
The ultimate objective of the project is an analytically integrated study of the aftermath of slavery that captures both the variety of concrete case-studies and the larger history of linkages between different parts of Africa and the world, Europe included. Innovation stands at the crossroad of chronological, geographical and disciplinary boundaries.
Mid Term Summary
Through a combination of anthropological and historical perspectives, SWAB (Shadows of Slavery in West Africa and Beyond) looks at the follow up of the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, a global and unfinished process that has invested the world at different times with a rich and complex variety of outcomes.
The objective is to contribute to the on-going debate on the continuities and discontinuities between old and new forms of slavery through a set of concrete case-studies from seven regions of the world: Eastern Senegal, Gambia and Ghana (West-Africa), Tunisia and Morocco (North Africa), Chad (Central Africa), Somalia (Horn of Africa), Madagascar and Mauritius (Indian Ocean), Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan (Central Asia), Southern Italy (Europe).
The project develops three lines of inquiry: 1) meanings of slavery and freedom, 2) gender and domestic work, 3) the role of the state.
- Collecting colonial and post-colonial memories of slavery and keeping an eye at today’s forms of labor exploitation, SWAB is showing how local memories of slavery inform and reshape contemporary social hierarchies and local practices of political and economic marginalization.
- The team is expanding the analysis of domestic labour beyond the employer/employee relations, taking into account the contexts of origin and arrival of domestic labourers, the network of intermediaries and the formal or informal agencies that mediate between domestics and their “masters”, the role played by associations, syndicates and governments in the regulation of this kind of activity, and the implications of domestic work in the social processes of construction of individual and gendered selves.
- SWAB is reading the past and present political mobilization of people of slave ancestry in the wider frame of the politics of marginal groups.
Under which historical circumstances social and economic marginality turns into a political resource?
How do political struggles reframe the relations of slave descendants with members of the former masters’ class?
So far, the study of old and new forms of slavery has stimulated SWAB to explore the local semantics of freedom and emancipation as much as the impact of work ethics and ideologies on the social construction of individual and collective selves.
The next step is comparison so as to highlight the convergences and divergences among the different case studies.
There is much discussion about the need for a historical perspective in the study of human trafficking and contemporary slavery. This project responds to this need by bringing together case studies from Eastern Senegal (West-Africa), Libya (North Africa), Coastal Madagascar (Indian Ocean), and North Afghanistan (Central Asia). For different reasons, these four regions of the world are under international scrutiny for human trafficking and contemporary slavery.
The PI and his team also delve into contemporary legal and human rights debates on human trafficking and contemporary slavery. They will try to find whether there a civic debate on human trafficking and new slavery.