Accepted Paper:

African slavery and post-slavery in the past and present of anthropology  
Alice Bellagamba (University of Milan-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reconstructs the engagement of anthropology with African slavery and post-slavery. From the early attempts of the 1950s to contemporary efforts, this theme of research has fostered the collaboration of anthropology with history, legal studies, political sciences and sociology.

Paper long abstract:

Which place has African slavery in the history of anthropology? The opinion of Igor Kopytoff in the early 1980s was that anthropologists overlooked the problem of slavery in their contexts of study. This paper reconstructs anthropological engagement with African slavery and post-slavery, starting with M. G. Smith's comparison between the emancipation of slaves in Northern Nigeria and the British West Indies (1954) and George Balandier's insights on Bakongo society (1955). The contribution of C. Meillassoux and other French scholars is considered in light of parallel developments in North America: the emerging field of African history, the influence of Marxism, the civil rights movement. That generation of scholars deepened our understanding of African slave-system but did not explore in depth their enduring legacies. They left aside the voices of slave descendants and depicted slavery as a vestige of the past. Which were the limits of their approach? Post-slavery African societies have started to be investigated seriously only in the 1990s in the frame of a general interest for memory and heritage politics. Today, researchers have opened to a range of other topics: emancipation struggles, legacies of social discrimination, neo-bondage, human trafficking and labor practices abusive of the rights and dignity of the person. From the early attempts of the 1950s to contemporary efforts, African slavery and post-slavery has fostered the collaboration of anthropology with history, legal studies, political sciences and sociology.

Panel P020
Themes in the history of anthropology