About the Conference

Despite the much vaunted abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean and Mascarenes in 1833/4, patterns of labour and migration in the post-emancipation empire continued to blur the boundaries between ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labour. Apprenticeship extended the planters’ control over their former chattels until 1838, while slavery itself remained in place in India until 1843, and continued in other European colonies and in the American South well into the late nineteenth century. ‘Free’ labour experiments in Sierra Leone and Liberia were beset with problems, working conditions in the former slave colonies remained uneven and exploitative, and nations who had ended slavery in their own colonies continued to purchase slave-grown produce from those who had not. Meanwhile the migration of 1.3 million Indians on contracts of indenture to colonies in the West Indies, Africa, Mascarenes, Fiji and other locations around the world was labeled a ‘new system of slavery’, despite increasingly sophisticated systems of regulation, and evidence of migrant agency in patterns of migration and re-migration. More recently, the continued prevalence of diverse forms of coercion within ever expanding global labour markets has been dubbed ‘modern slavery’, and exploitation and compulsion in contexts as varied as the sex trade, sweatshops, domestic service and manual labour have drawn attention to the continued inequity of working conditions across the world. This had led to much needed academic, political and public debate, but in the process has also sometimes prompted a re-articulation of earlier abolitionist tropes in which humanitarian sentiment is cross-cut by essentialist assumptions of race, class and gender.

This conference seeks to explore the emergence of global patterns of labour and migration in the post-emancipation world in ways that move beyond nineteenth century constructions of ‘slavery’ and ‘freedom’ and look instead at the diverse, nuanced and often ambivalent experiences over time and space. It seeks to break down unhelpful assumptions about ‘active’ and ‘passive’ migration, and ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labour in order to describe the uneven, ambivalent, but extremely important ways in which labourers and migrants exerted their own agency, asserted their own identities and aspirations, and shaped their own individual and collective outcomes, even in the face of various forms of coercion and exploitation. By bringing together scholars of labour and migration from various disciplinary backgrounds, and regional and chronological specialisms, it aims to open up comparative perspectives and productive conversations that move beyond dominant colonial and post-colonial narratives to explore diverse experiences of labour migration from a range of disciplinary, theoretical and subaltern perspectives.

Keynote Speakers

Prof Richard B. Allen (Framingham University, Massachusetts)
Prof David Lambert (University of Warwick)
Prof Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson (University of Bristol)

Other confirmed speakers and attendees include: Dr Richard Huzzey (University of Liverpool); Prof Henrice Altink (University of York); Prof Crispin Bates and Dr Marina Carter (University of Edinburgh); Dr Saurabh Misra (University of Sheffield), Dr Sascha Auerbach (University of Nottingham)

‘Cool!tude’ and ‘Juxtapositions’ Exhibitions: The conference will be accompanied by two exhibitions on indentured migration in the Indian Ocean. ‘Juxtapositions’ uses visual and textual sources to explore the contrast and contradictions that epitomised the indenture experience for the 1.3million labour migrants who left India to work in colonies around the world. ‘Cool!tude’ showcases images by artists Danny Flynn and Andil Gosine and combines archival images with stunning new original artwork.

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