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Author:Irene Peano (University of Lisbon)
Paper short abstract:
The paper proposes to trace the genealogies connecting contemporary agro-industrial production, and its migrant labour management, in Italy with the development of the plantation system and of subsequent patterns of racialisation in processes of primitive accumulation that began in the 19th century.
Paper long abstract:
Building on fifteen years of engaged, militant research and activism on the issue of migrant labour exploitation, the paper will seek to identify the afterlife of the plantation model as a racialising machine for labour extraction and disciplining in contemporary Europe. More specifically, I will put analyses of plantation systems and their afterlives in world history (e.g. Beckford, Best, Curtin, McKittrick, Mintz, Robinson, Smith, Trouillot, Wacquant, Wagley) to the test of current dynamics of migrant labour exploitation, with particular reference to the Italian agro-industrial sector.
Patterns of spatial segregation, of racialization/dehumanisation and of labour standardisation are crucial to the management of migrant labour and its reserve army, especially as far as the export-oriented farming sector is concerned. The analysis of these contemporary forms of containment and violent extraction, but also of resistance against them (for example in the wide appeal to Rastafarianism by West African farm workers) can highlight the (spectral) persistence of the trans-Atlantic trade and the plantation system, whose Mediterranean antecedents (Curtin) also left a mark in the culture of racialisation (Epstein). At the same time, more complex genealogies of racialization and exploitation can be highlighted, pointing to the ways in which the plantation developed in parallel with other systems founded on primitive accumulation and extraction: in the 19th century the invention and consolidation of a colour line internal to the Italian nation was crucial within a process that also relied on labour coercion, violent disciplining and extraction.
Bringing race-making and class struggles in plantations and export industries back to the research agenda